Wait, Arnab Goswami Has Jumped Ship to Doordarshan
Incisive questions that could have allayed fears of minorities, were missing in Modi’s interview, writes Shuma Raha.
So Times Now and its editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami got a huge media exclusive — an interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that was aired last night. It is huge because after assuming office, Modi has pretty much ignored the Indian media. There have been no press conferences, no one-on-ones. And then suddenly, there was the Prime Minister on Arnab’s show, Frankly Speaking. And there was Arnab Goswami, the angry middle-aged man of Indian news television, his usually gelled hair shampooed and shining softly, presumably getting ready to grill Modi with his customary doggedness.
What transpired though was as close to “grilling” as India is to getting into the NSG. Arnab was deferential — as indeed he must be to the Prime Minister of the country. He was also jaw-droppingly soft on Modi. There were no tough questions, and if the PM waffled in response to some questions, Arnab simply let it pass.
Newshour regulars who tune in daily to watch Arnab pounce on and tear into his panelists, must have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Who’s this chap, they must have wondered. Arnab, he of the high decibel, asked his questions in hushed tones, while Modi unspooled his spiel expansively.
On Divisive Comments
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the interview was all those questions that Arnab did not ask Modi. In the last one year, the country has been convulsed by beef politics, the debate over intolerance, the many communally incendiary remarks made by the likes of BJP MP Sanjeev Baliyan, Yogi Adityanath and so on. This was a golden opportunity to quiz the PM on these issues, to ask him how he proposed to allay concerns that the country’s secular, inclusive, pluralistic fabric was at risk. He could have asked Modi about growing rural distress, the BJP’s debacle in Bihar, its messy state of affairs in Uttarakhand. But he did not.
He did pose a tiny afterthought of a question on extreme comments by “hot heads” right at the end. The response was nothing short of incredible. Modi requested the media not to make “heroes” out of those who make divisive comments.
The media makes “heroes” out of people who threaten those who belong to a minority community? Really?
But, of course, Arnab let that go uncontested as well.
Was it a PR Job?
So was the interview a total PR job — prefabricated at the PMO and reverentially wheeled out by Arnab, the man who commands the highest TRPs amongst English television news anchors? It certainly felt like that. Indeed, it could well have been Q and A with the PM on Doordarshan for the sheer amount of pabulum it threw up.
Modi held forth on his manifold achievements since assuming office. About how there was “disappointment” during the earlier regime and how “today there is no trace of disappointment”. He said while we used to just “count the waves before”, now we are ready to “ride” them. He listed his foreign policy achievements while Arnab cheered him on, saying, “Your speech in the US Congress was fantastic. You laughed and cracked jokes, which was unique. They appreciated it. Was the speech impromptu?”
Modi did not answer that. But Arnab let it go. In fact, there were numerous occasions during the interview when he could have held the PM to account on his actions or the lack thereof.
When Modi called RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan a patriot and indirectly ticked off Subramanian Swamy for his scurrilous campaign against him, should he not have been asked why then was Rajan not given a second term? Or was that considered too discomfiting for the Prime Minister?
Again, when Arnab gently put it to him that “people are saying job opportunities aren’t increasing”, Modi launched on a mega waffle that included, among other things, his plan to allow small shopkeepers to run their businesses late into the night!
Arnab could have pressed the point — we all know he is devilishly good at pressing a point ad infinitum — and asked him exactly how those jobs would come. But he chose not to.
Simply put, there were no counter-questions. There was no hard talk — just a soft-pedalling of every question and a meek acceptance of every answer. As a journalistic effort it was hollow. As a PR exercise for Modi, it was terrific.
Which is perhaps why Modi too was so chuffed about it. So much so that he tweeted a gleeful plug for the interview:
Millions must have tuned
in to find out. It was Modi unplugged all right. But it was also Modi
unhindered, unchallenged. And as a journalistic exercise, entirely
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached at @ShumaRaha)
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