Just ahead of Lok Sabha polls, PM Modi on Friday, 5 April, gave another interview to ABP News’s Rubika Liyaquat and Sumit Awasthi. This particular interview was memorable in the context that such a farce was being played on the national TV for the very first time where all the journalistic ethics were thrown in the garbage bin. It went on in the most predictable and bizarre manner and unsurprisingly in similar fashion like his earlier interview with ANI’s Smita Prakash done on the New Year’s Day.
The key issues were deliberately ignored, counter-questions conveniently forgotten, and ample time devoted to things like the PM’s ‘navratra schedule’ and his ‘amazing energy.’ The whole exercise seemed less of an interview and more of a hero worship session. The interviewers had an excellent opportunity to grill and ask some probing questions but they let this once in a life time opportunity slip away from their hands. Maybe, they had no choice and were just enacting their roles in a scripted interview set up at the behest of PMO.
Let us decode some of ABP’s so called tough questions raisesd in this 90 minutes session of absolute farce. There was one question asked on a recent controversy related to launch of NaMo TV, a channel which focuses exclusively on the speeches and rallies of PM Modi and senior BJP leaders. A lot of controversies have been raised about the channel’s legality and ownership pattern, besides complaints of it violating the Model Code of Conduct.
Mr Modi could have easily been grilled on this topic but the seriousness was missing when questions were posed. It was bonhomie between the Prime Minister and those who were supposed to make him uncomfortable. There were exchanges of chuckles from both sides, with Modi saying, “Yes! I know. Some people are running it but I keep so busy, I hardly get time to see it”. And just out of nowhere, the focus suddenly shifted to the BJP’s prospects in West Bengal, when there was so much to ask and probe on an issue.
Let’s begin with question over Congress President Rahul Gandhi contesting from two seats – Amethi and Wayanad, Modi was asked to comment about Gandhi’s decision. But then why he wasn’t asked about his own controversial comments that he made while campaigning in Wardha on 1st April.
PM Modi while replying didn’t mention Rahul Gandhi but said the Congress is scared, and so it has fielded its leader from a Muslim majority constituency. He didn’t stop there and went on slamming Congress for using the ‘Hindu terror’ metaphor, and mockingly asked, “Is there a single incident in last thousands of years of Hindus ever engaging in terrorism?”
One portion of the ABP interview was devoted to a long discussion on Indian Muslims but instead of asking questions related to the insecurities and a sense of fear among the Indian Muslims, the interviewers were keener to know about Modi’s personal equation with Muslim majority countries.
The Prime Minister wasn’t asked about his government’s failure to take action against those who have called for Muslims to go to Pakistan, and why BJP didn’t field any Muslim candidate in the coming Lok Sabha elections. Modi’s stock answer to all these queries was to stress on India’s unity, and emphasise on his slogan of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. It was baffling as why no questions were asked about the targeted violence against Muslims, including the various incidents of lynchings.
The all important question on unemployment did figure in ABP’s interview of Modi, but like before, PM was given a long rope to evade the main issue and was allowed to have his own narrative. Modi gave a similar answer to what he said earlier in his interview to Smita Prakash of ANI and Arnab Goswami. Awasthi could have easily quoted the NSSO survey of having the highest unemployment rate of 6.1% in last 45 years but obviously that wasn’t included in the script and he dutifully kept quiet. Instead of coming out with actual figures of jobs, Modi went on singing paeans of MUDRA scheme, a CII report on the MSME sector, pension scheme, doubling of roads, rails and airport as arguments in support of substantial employment created by his govt in last few years.
While questions on crucial issues were absent, there were two areas where it was enthusiastically pursued with zeal. Now sample this. One question which always crops up in PM’s interview is ‘How do you get so much of energy?’ Of late, it seems to have become a sort of ritual and the lady interviewer merrily asked “Modiji, how come you never get tired? Are you taking some energy tonic?” Our PM gleefully answered the question in vivid detail, replete with anecdotes.
The question on fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi and his equally notorious uncle Mehul Chowksi was asked as an afterthought. Instead of explaining why his government failed to deport him, he went on thumping his chest as how all these scamsters and thugs are scared of him and so they are left with no choice but flee en masse. If you think questions related to his flagship schemes like “Make in India”, “Digital India”, “Smart City” and “Bullet Train” were asked, you cannot be further from the truth as the lady was more curious to know about PM’s fasting schedule during navratras.
In fact, questions related to his fast went on and on. He was asked whether he would undertake fast during navratras this time around to whether it’s true that he does not eat anything to whether the fast before Ramnavmi is more demanding than the one in September-October or is it the other way round. It appeared as if issues like vanishing jobs, scarce livelihood, falling economy and mob violence have ceased to become issues for masses and they are only concerned with knowing about PM Modi’s navratri plans and his favourite fruits consumed during his fast.
It would have been much better if this opportunity would have been used for the purpose for which it was meant. This was a time to ask the Prime Minister about his performance in last 5 years. It was time to question him on the promises he made to 133 cr people of India in 2014.It was time to ask him about his jumla “Na khaunga, Na khane Dunga”. It was time to ask him about his hollow promises of “Beti Bacho”. It was also a time to ask him about his promise of creating 2 crore jobs every year. And last but not the least it was time to ask him about his nonsensical implementation of demonetisation when he made the entire country to stand in long queues outside the ATMs for just 2000 Rs and deprived them from using their own hard earned money.
Alas! That was not to be. In the end it was all about how an interview shouldn’t take place and how a journalist should not behave.