“I am not a prime minister who is afraid of the media”

The last press conference by an Indian PM was held exactly 10 years ago on 3 January, 2014 where Dr Manmohan Singh addressed 62 unscripted questions

File photograph of PM Modi and Manmohan Singh greeting each other (Photo: IANS)
File photograph of PM Modi and Manmohan Singh greeting each other (Photo: IANS)
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Exactly a decade ago today, former Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh faced a barrage of unscripted questions from over a hundred journalists, marking his last press conference on 3 January, 2014. The event was in stark contrast to the current political landscape, where incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not addressed a single press conference in the past 10 years, despite completing two terms in office and seeking re-election for a third term in 2024.

As pointed out in an X post by journalist Pankaj Pachauri, Dr Singh's press conference was not just a routine affair; it was a platform where he launched a scathing attack on BJP's then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, branding him a disaster. The former PM, however, remained steadfast in defending his tenure, dismissing accusations of weakness and a reluctance to speak. "I believe history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media and opposition in Parliament," Dr Singh asserted.

During the press conference, Dr Singh addressed 62 unscripted questions, showcasing a level of transparency and accountability rarely witnessed in Indian politics. He countered claims of inaction on corruption, asserting that the government had acted against graft despite facing challenges.

Reflecting on his service to the nation, Singh declared, "I am the same person as I was 9 years ago…have tried to serve this country to the best of my capability," reinforcing his commitment to public service.

The media played a crucial role during Dr Singh's first term, contrasting his low-key demeanour with the muscular style of Modi, who eventually became his successor. In stark contrast to Dr Singh's open engagement with the media, the current PM has chosen to remain silent, eschewing press conferences throughout his two terms in office.

Despite PM Modi's aversion to holding press conferences, The Wire in an article pointed out how he responded to two questions posed by journalists during his 2023 state visit to the United States at the White House.

The article also noted that the unusual occurrence at the White House drew attention, with the international media highlighting the rarity of unscripted events involving PM Modi.

“While he has a penchant for delivering speeches at public events and utilizes his monthly radio show to communicate with the nation, exposure to spontaneous events has been infrequent before the White House episode and is likely to remain so in the future,” the New York Times had reported.

As India heads toward the 2024 elections, the absence of direct interaction with the media raises questions about the transparency and accountability of the country's leadership. Congress MP Manish Tewari shared Pachauri's post, highlighting that Dr. Singh, in his decade-long tenure, conducted a total of 117 press conferences.

Tewari gave a break up of the press conferences to indicate that 72 were on foreign trips, 10 were annual pressers, 23 were during domestic or state visits and 12 pertaining to elections, political developments or manifesto related.

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