The Mann Ki Baat we never got to hear in 2023, but would love to in 2024

What PM Modi didn’t talk about all through 2023 on any Mann Ki Baat are a few topics that may actually improve his audience engagement

Screengrab from @NarendraModi on YouTube
Screengrab from @NarendraModi on YouTube

Yajnaseni Chakraborty

As 2023 drew to a close, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unleashed the year’s last Mann Ki Baat on the nation. The PM’s radio programme, aired on All India Radio on the last Sunday of every month, thus notched up its 108th episode on the last day of the year.

On PM Modi’s own YouTube channel, which has 20.2 million subscribers, the episode had 176,000 views in the day since it was posted. On Doordarshan National, with 5.5 million subscribers, the views numbered 9,300 over the same time period. The BJP’s own channel could proudly say that as many as 18,000 of its 5.19 million subscribers viewed the video.

Even if we were to add figures from all the many other platforms on which the programme is available whether you want it or not, the number of listeners who tuned in really wouldn’t be worth writing about in a country the size of India, to put it politely.

The 108th episode featured such burning issues as the Nari Shakti Vandan Act and economic growth, and included messages on fitness from Sadhguru, Harmanpreet Kaur, Viswanathan Anand, Akshay Kumar and Rishabh Malhotra. The PM spoke about mental health, health startups, and Bhashini, the government’s national digital platform for real-time translations. He also paid tribute to Savitribai Phule and Rani Velu Nachiyar.

The video also had supers pointing out the importance of the number 108 in our lives — ‘108 beads in a string, 108 times chant…’, you get the drift.

What PM Modi didn’t talk about all through 2023 on any Mann Ki Baat are a few topics that may actually improve his audience engagement. So, here’s a list of the Mann Ki Baat episodes we kept expecting all through the year, but never got, and which we would suggest the prime minister try in 2024:

A warm handshake between cronies? (photo: National Herald archives)
A warm handshake between cronies? (photo: National Herald archives)

Adani and crony capitalism, a bond unbreakable?

In October, Congress MP Jairam Ramesh described the association between the BJP-led government and the Adani Group led by the PM’s close friend Gautam Adani as a “textbook case of crony capitalism”.

In January, the US investment research firm Hindenburg Research came up with a report alleging that the Adani Group had “engaged in a brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme over the course of decades”. The report also accused the group of improper use of tax havens and money laundering, and raised concerns about the group’s mounting debts.

Once again in October, customs reports in Indonesia and India examined by the Financial Times, relating to 30 Adani Group coal shipments between 2019 and 2021, showed that import prices declared in India were much higher than export declarations in Indonesia.

The imported coal supplied to Indian power plants at inflated rates thus raised fuel costs and that of electricity generation, forcing Indian consumers and businesses to pay more for electricity, an FT report suggested.

Opposition leaders who raise questions about Adani and his group have the stellar example of Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra to go by. Perhaps one of the most vocal critics of the business behemoth, Moitra was expelled from Parliament on 8 December on charges of ‘compromising national security’, among other things.

The Adani Group, meanwhile, is yet to face any concrete charges, though it has ended the year with a bit of a downer according to an Economic Times report, with the market value of its 10 listed companies falling from Rs 19.6 lakh crore at the end of 2022 to Rs 13.6 lakh crore as of 22 December.

All this, one would think, was enough for a single episode of the PM’s show. And he could devote a further episode to the rise of oligarchic capitalism in his era, and detail the Adani Group’s meteoric upward journey to become one of India’s largest and most powerful businesses.

The listenership would blow through the roof!

Palestine, and the art of mixed messaging

‘Narendra Modi has shifted India from the Palestinians to Israel’, proclaimed a headline in the Economist in early November. “The pivot is based on a realist reappraisal of Indian interests in the Middle East. It has also met with strong public backing from Narendra Modi’s domestic supporters, which is gratifying for Mr Modi’s government ahead of state elections this month and a general election next year,” the article went on to state.

On 27 October, India had abstained in the United National General Assembly on a resolution tabled by Jordan seeking a humanitarian truce in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. In mid-November, India voted in favour of five resolutions relating to the situation in West Asia, including one that condemned Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and abstained on one resolution. But it abstained on a draft resolution to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories.

By end-November, PM Modi was talking about India’s “unwavering support to the Palestinian cause” on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Finally, under pressure at home and abroad to strike the right balance, India joined the UNGA’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in mid-December, reversing its earlier position of abstaining.

We really would love to know more about this journey of mixed messages, if only the prime minister were willing to talk about it!

Wrestlers during their protest in New Delhi (photo: Wikipedia)
Wrestlers during their protest in New Delhi (photo: Wikipedia)

The wrestlers’ protest that never was

“Why are you not listening to our mann ki baat?” This was the question some of India’s best wrestlers asked PM Modi on 26 April, seeking his time to discuss the sexual harassment allegations against his party’s MP and former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

In January, Indian wrestlers began a sit-in at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar demanding an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by female wrestlers against Brij Bhushan, with several wrestlers accusing him of groping, inappropriate touching, stalking, intimidation, and demanding “sexual favours” in exchange for professional help.

Among those leading the protest were Olympic bronze medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and multiple-times women’s world champion Vinesh Phogat. Following an assurance that the Central government would form a committee to look into the allegations, the protests were called off in January but resumed in April, citing inaction by authorities and the committee’s bias toward the accused.

If he could bring himself to talk about it, perhaps PM Modi could explain why Delhi Police were so reluctant to accept as many as seven FIRs against Brij Bhushan, or so reluctant to arrest him once they did, despite the fact that he was booked under the non-bailable POCSO Act?

Or perhaps he would explain why, on 3 May, the protest site was cleared by the police, with the wrestlers physically carried to police vans, and several of them claiming injuries from the police action. To add insult to those alleged injuries, Bhushan’s lackey Sanjay Singh got himself elected as WFI chief this month, though the sports ministry hastily suspended the newly elected panel in the face of enormous political and public backlash.

Bottom line: Six-time MP Brij Bhushan Singh is still roaming free, though he has issued a statement declaring his intention to move away from wrestling and focus on politics instead. How useful will he be to the BJP during the Lok Sabha 2024 elections? Perhaps PM Modi could enlighten us on his show.

BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri during his diatribe against BSP MP Danish Ali in the Lok Sabha (photo: Sansad TV)
BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri during his diatribe against BSP MP Danish Ali in the Lok Sabha (photo: Sansad TV)
Sansad TV

Ramesh Bidhuri and the art of refined Parliamentary speeches

Here is how RSS activist and BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri addressed his Parliamentary colleague, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Danish Ali, in the Lok Sabha on 21 September: a ‘bhadwa’, ‘katwa’, ‘Muslim ugravadi’, and ‘atankvadi’.

While most Hindi-speaking Indians are familiar with these intensely Islamophobic slurs, you are welcome to Google the actual meanings if you aren’t. The point is, it is language worthy of a bar brawl, if that. And literally no action has been taken against Bidhuri in the months following his loathsome outburst, not even a token suspension from Parliament. Neither has PM Modi opened his mouth to say a single word on the incident.

Well, he could start at the end of next month. Perhaps a Mann Ki Baat episode on Bidhuri and the fine tradition of Parliamentary speaking?

Silkyara and beyond, a Himalayan blunder?

Could we have PM Modi talk about the root cause of the Silkyara tunnel disaster, in which 41 miners were trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand for 400 hours before finally being rescued? About how his pet Char Dham Yatra project — whose foundation stone he laid in 2016 with an aim to improve connectivity to the Hindu pilgrimage sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath — now stands accused of wreaking havoc on the region’s fragile Himalayan ecosystem?

We would love to hear a Mann Ki Baat on how the project has faced severe backlash from environmentalists since day one, amidst allegations that no environment-impact assessments were conducted before construction began.

Experts across domains have warned that several more disasters like Silkyara are simply waiting to happen, but will the prime minister conduct a serious discussion on how this model of development could impact the lives (and potential deaths) of thousands of people?

Activists have consistently accused the government of deforesting and degrading the ecosystem through largescale hill-cutting and construction, claiming that the spate of natural disasters in the region, such as the 2021 Chamoli flash floods and the 2023 Joshimath land subsidence, can be traced back to the project.

Of course, we are yet to see a single official report on these allegations, or how the project can still be implemented, but in a far more environment-friendly manner. Perhaps the PM could make a start?

Manipur, still burning

Ah yes, the silence on this one has truly been deafening. For seven months now, Manipur has been in the throes of ethnic violence, the likes of which this country has rarely seen. For PM Modi and his home minister Amit Shah, though, this part of India may as well not exist.

The horrifying cycle of violence pitting the state’s majority Hindu Meitei community against the mostly Christian Kuki-Zo tribe — which ‘officially’ began on 3 May with the coming to light of a shocking video showing a tribal woman being paraded naked and molested by a large group of jeering men — shows no signs of letting up, despite hundreds of deaths and untold levels of displacement.

And yet, as Congress MP Jairam Ramesh wrote on X earlier this month, “The Home Minister claims peace has returned but ground realities are to the contrary. And of course, the Prime Minister carries on with his inexplicable silence on Manipur, along with his refusal to meet with Manipuri leaders or visit the state.”

Perhaps we can hear a few pearls of wisdom on what, if anything, the Centre has planned to prevent Manipur from breaking into two, or how to stop diverse militant groups in this historically troubled state from taking the violence to a point of no return?

CAG in a CAG(E)

In early November, a citizens’ initiative called Constitutional Conduct Group comprising several former civil servants wrote an open letter to President Droupadi Murmu, regarding the controversy surrounding the autonomous functioning of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), intended to function as a government watchdog.

We’d love to hear from PM Modi why, in the decade that his government has been in power, the total number of CAG reports relating to Union government ministries and departments has come down from 55 in 2015 to 14 in 2020, an astonishing rate of decline.

As the open letter to the President — signed by 86 retired IAS, IPS, IFS, and IFoS officers — stated, “The institution of the CAG does not seem to be discharging its duties with the speed that it is expected to, or that it had in the past. The number of audit reports relating to the Union government’s functioning which have been submitted before Parliament has shown a declining trend…”

As has been widely written about, among the most remarkable of these cases has been the huge cost over-runs on projects of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and other related bodies, and the false records of expenditure under the central government’s flagship health scheme Ayushman Bharat.

Can we get a Mann Ki Baat on the Dwarka Expressway project, for example, where the actual cost incurred was about 14 times the approved amount? Or why, while 88,760 patients died during treatment, 2,14,923 claims were made at a later date for fresh treatment of the same patients under the Ayushman Bharat scheme?

If we’re lucky, the PM may even talk about the way the CAG officers who brought such discrepancies to light were then either transferred to unimportant posts, or sent far away from their existing places of posting.

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