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Why Modi avoids the media

Why this reticence from an otherwise voluble Prime Minister when his far more reserved predecessor held at least two major press conferences in addition to having prolonged engagements with the journalists travelling with him on his foreign trips?



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In another two years, Narendra Modi may well enter the Guinness Book of Records for failing to hold a press conference. In that event, he will be the first Prime Minister of a democratic country who has avoided meeting the media at a large televised gathering.

It is not that he hasn’t met newsmen at all. But these meetings have been with a select few who are known to be partial towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the “North Korean TV”, as Arun Shourie, a former BJP minister, has said. Even then, the interactions weren’t live. Apart from these occasional, choreographed, generally one-sided pow wows, what Modi favours is a monologue — whether at public rallies or at indoor functions with an invited audience where no questions are allowed, or over the radio.

Why this reticence from an otherwise voluble Prime Minister when his far more reserved predecessor held at least two major press conferences in addition to having prolonged engagements with the journalists travelling with him on his foreign trips?

As is known, Modi’s aversion towards the fourth estate stems from the aftermath of the Gujarat riots when he apparently felt that he could not afford to be interrogated closely on what transpired. Once he even walked out of a one-to-one chat show when asked about the riots. One of his first steps after becoming the Prime Minister was to dispense with the convention of journalists accompanying the PM when he went abroad. Only the official media were given the privilege.

There is also a belief in the saffron camp that the so-called mainstream media, especially the English ones, harbour the Left-Liberals who look upon the BJP with a jaundiced eye and have had a special antipathy towards Modi since the riots. Hence, the Prime Minister’s reluctance to reach out to them although the BJP does allow its spokespersons to present the party’s case before the television cameras, an unavoidable aspect of democratic functioning.

One explanation for Modi’s unwillingness to take part in an exercise which is routine in a democracy is that his answers to probing questions can reveal a worldview which is alien to the narrative which has guided the country’s politics till now.

Nothing exposed this difference between the BJP’s perceptions and the rest of the country’s more starkly than Atal Behari Vajpayee’s 1996 decision to put on hold the three key issues on the Hindutva agenda — the Ram temple, Article 370 of the Constitution and uniform civil code — in order to woo the “secular” parties to his side.

Since Vajpayee’s time, more issues marking out the BJP’s distinctive position from that of the other parties have come to the fore. These are myth vs history, faith vs the inviolability of protected monuments, vegetarianism vs non-vegetarianism, astrology vs astronomy, Hindi vs English, and so on.

The gulf between the two worldviews makes Modi something of an outsider in Lutyens Delhi. It also probably makes him wary of baring his soul to a large media gathering lest his answers create problems for the saffron brotherhood by sowing confusion among the BJP’s core supporters.

It may not be besides the point to note that another outsider — this time from the Washington beltway — Donald Trump is also highly critical of the mainstream media although he does not shy away from press conferences.

If Modi does so, it is because he is still hovering between the two diametrically opposite worlds. While his government has vowed to crack down on gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) and other militants, the latter have persisted with their acts of depredations because they apparently believe that these are in line with the saffron brotherhood’s outlook.

For the BJP, the moderate vs extremist dichotomy in its own ranks has been complicated by the fact that India’s diversity allows one or the other view to prevail in different parts of the country. Thus, while the death sentence is prescribed by the party’s Chhattisgarh Chief Minister for those who kill cows and the Gujarat Chief Minister vows to persuade everyone in his state to turn vegetarian, beef “festivals” are held in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the BJP’s office-bearers in the north-eastern states stridently emphasise their preference for the forbidden meat.

It is obvious that the absence of a clear line makes it virtually impossible for the party to articulate a credible position on various issues.

Since there are no differences either inside or outside the BJP on the Prime Minister’s developmental thrust — although the protectionist lobby in the saffron camp is opposed to the introduction of genetically modified foods — Modi will be at ease in accepting questions at a press conference on his Make in India, Digital India and other similar projects and even on demonetisation although it is now seen to have led to a slowing down of growth.

But it is the activities of what is known as the “fringe” which can be problematic. Moreover, these groups are unlikely to fade away because of the inspiration which they derive from the saffron brotherhood’s interpretation of history as a period of constant conflict between the native Hindus and the invading Muslims with their iconoclastic approach to faith and diet. It is the BJP’s present tightrope walk between moderation and extremism which makes Modi avoid large press meets.


By Amulya Ganguli 


India has survived as a single political entity because of democracy




Why, despite the differences and the almost continuous trouble in one or other part of India, has the country (India) survived as a single political entity?

The answer in one word is democracy. India’s experiment with democracy has been unique, not only due to the size of the electorate and the number of political parties, but because it has tamed and ‘Indianised’ it. The Westminster model of parliamentary democracy has been transformed into the Raisina model. Reforms to achieve social equality have taken place through the election process-vote banks rather than direct, unilateral executive action which has historically been more common-as for example when Kemal Atatürk reformed Turkey during his tenure as the President.

There is no evidence that democracy existed in ancient India. There were republics in parts of what are now Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These were territories which had no kings but the rulers were an oligarchy. But these rulers were not elected by all the people. Indeed the idea of equal rights to elect rulers would be strange to a hierarchical social order.

These were oligarchies rather than monarchies, republics rather than democracies. Even in panchayats, whether for a caste or a village, it was very much the older, more powerful men (and exclusively men) who were the panch. We see that today in khap panchayats. Khap panchayats are committees of elders of a jati which lay down the conventions of good behaviour for members of that jati. Democracy is quite different from republicanism. Great Britain has been a democracy without being a republic.

The most radical act of the members of the Constituent Assembly was the decision to grant universal adult franchise. They themselves had been elected by an electorate which was highly restricted. There were several arguments which could have been advanced against universal adult franchise. Illiteracy, for example. Only 12 percent of Indians were literate at the time of Independence. (Now the rate is 75 per cent.) Moreover, across the world, few countries had given women the vote by 1947. The UK achieved full female suffrage only in 1928 and France in 1946. India granted women the vote immediately, without any previous experience of women voting. High or low caste, savarna and Dalits, tribals and mainlanders-all got to vote as long as they were adults. The orthodox theory of Ram Rajya would never have sanctioned such equality. It was a profound, egalitarian move.

The choice of democracy with full adult franchise was not an accident. In the official reforms, franchise had been kept restricted. But the Indian National Congress was converted from an elite gathering into a mass party by Gandhi once he became its leader in 1921. With him at the helm, the Congress gave every ordinary member a right to vote at the local level to elect their representatives in higher Congress bodies. Congress practised universal adult franchise for all its paid-up (4 annas/25 paise) members and then naturally extended it to all when it came to power.

There was also another factor which has been downplayed in the history of the independence movement. This was the experience political leaders acquired by participating in the official legislatures. They included leaders such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Sir Srinivas Shastri, Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Vithalbhai Patel, all of whom were seasoned parliamentarians. The electorates were small, the elected Indians had little power, the agenda was controlled by the executive (this still remains the case in independent India’s Parliament). But the participants learnt about procedure on how to frame and pass legislation, debate budgets and so on. The short-term split in the independence movement between the constitutional and the agitational sides took place in 1921, when Gandhi issued the call for non-cooperation, and ended in 1937, when Congress took part in the legislatures.

During that period, the Swaraj Party started by Congress leaders such as C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru participated in the elections. By the time of Independence, in fact, there were many leaders who had become seasoned parliamentarians. Some like Har Bilas Sarda achieved their goal of reforming society by having an Act passed. The Sarda Bill was introduced in 1927 in the Central Legislative Assembly and passed as the Sarda Act in 1929, prohibiting child marriage. India was ready for a parliamentary democracy, British style.

(Noted public intellectual, professor of Economics and an active member of the British Labour Party since 1971, Meghnad Desais latest book “The Raisina Model” (Penguin/Rs 499/208 pages) offers a critical and frequently uncomfortable mediation on Indias contemporary political culture. Presented here is an exclusive extract from the book:)

By : Meghnad Desai

(Extracted from “The Raisina Model” by Meghnad Desai, with permission from Penguin Random House India)

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Sharad Pawar leads anti-government rally on 77th birthday




Nagpur, Dec 12: After 37 years, veteran politician and National Congress Party President Sharad Pawar hit the streets on his 77th birthday on Tuesday, leading a massive ‘Jan Aakrosh Halla Bol’ procession, jointly with Congress and other parties, against the BJP-Shiv Sena government.

The procession, led by an ailing Pawar – who recently underwent a toe surgery – started from Dhanwate National College grounds to the Maharashtra Legislature which has currently assembled here for the Winter Session in the state’s second capital.

The procession saw the participation of top Congress leaders like former Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, state Congress President Ashok Chavan, and others from the Congress and the NCP, besides over 200,000 farmers and party workers from entire Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra, NCP state spokesperson Nawab Malik said.

“In 1980, Pawar had led a similar procession on bicycle from Jalgaon to Nagpur to fight for farmers issues. This time, it’s a commemoration of that procession for the cause of farmers who are being denied justice under the present Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena at the centre and in Maharashtra,” Malik told IANS.

Later, Azad, Pawar and other senior leaders from the their parties, besides other smaller or regional parties like Samajwadi Party, Peasants & Workers Party, Republican Party of India, et al, addressed the gathering near the legislature building.

Tuesday’s procession-cum-rally is part of the ongoing agitation launched by the NCP on December 1, in different parts of the state intended to “condemn and awaken the sleeping state government on its various unfulfilled promises” for the people of Maharashtra.

These include the Minimum Support Price for farmers for agriculture produce, the disbursement of the farm loans waiver package announced by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in June, and other issues, he added.


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Gujarat Election: Easy win is next to impossible for BJP in Mehsana, Here’s why



Hardik Patel Public Meeting
Hardik Patel Public Meeting

A report published in Wire claims that almost a Lakh people gathered in the public meeting held by Hardik Patel near border of Mehsana which was the epicentre of the Patidar agitation in 2015.
However Hardik has been barred to enter the place but the Wire states a person saying “He cannot come to Mehsana but we can travel wherever he is.”

The Mehsana constituency is toug fighth for BJP to win this time as Patidars in the area are very upset with BJP, specially after the 2015 movement.

However BJP is trying every single move to save the constituency from Congress’s patel candidate Jivabhai Patel who was member of parliament in 2004. However, apart from the candidates from the two major parties, there are 32 other candidates contesting from the constituency.

About which a 65-year-old Patidar from Mehsana city constituency told The Wire,“These are all bogus candidates to divide the vote of Congress. Nitin Patel won’t win this time, so the BJP is desperate. The party had just two Lok Sabha seats in whole country in 1984 and one was Mehsana – we brought BJP to power. Modi stepped on our shoulders and became the chief minister and then prime minister. Our boys were the party’s youth cadre. The Patel’s not only voted for BJP and helped the party financially but also did its dirty work.”

“We used to pay Rs 200 per person to being people to Modi’s public meetings. You think the crowd at Modi’s rallies are all his supporters?” says Bharatbhai Patel of Sander village in Patan, who had come to attend Hardik’s rally.” he added.

According to The Wire, “The constituency has 2.57 lakh voters out of whom about 52,000 are Patidars, 40,000 Thakors, 26,000 Prajapati, and about 12,500 Muslims. Thakors and Muslims have been loyal vote banks of the Congress since the time Madhavsinh Solanki brought the vote bank together under the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) theory.”
Mehsana district has seven assembly seats. In the 2012 elections, BJP had won five seats while two seats went to the Congress.

But the anti incumbancy factor and the inclination of Patels towards Hardik Patel and Congress has created a tough challenge for BJP in not just saving the five seats but also in getting a single seat .


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