In my article “Media, Myth & Narendra Modi” that appeared in India Opines on 9th July 2013, I had opined that most of the people who wrote about Modi had actually no experience of a one-on-one interaction with him, and opinions were being articulated on the basis of presumptuous reporting by a paid media that had a vested interest in keeping Modi in the spotlight only to vilify him. While I still hold that he is the target of a deliberate vilification campaign launched by those who are afraid of his growing popularity and see him as a potential threat to their continuance in power at the centre and the states, I feel that his recent one-on-one interview with Reuters has been a big let-down and a great opportunity to project his thoughts and ideas has been squandered.
The interview has been analyzed and commented upon by his opponents in the most scathing language, and a brave effort is being made by his supporters to put a different spin on the answers he gave to the interviewers. By all accounts, the team of Ross Colvin and Shruti Gottipati were from a neutral news service, and had no personal axes to grind. The questions were more like a conversation that would have put anyone at ease. In fact, it was a pleasant departure from the usual browbeating we get from our macho media men and women, and Modi should have been able to handle the interview with a lot of élan and confidence.
However, I must admit that Narendra Modi, so sure of himself when addressing an audience, found himself rather tongue-tied and bereft of a language that would have given full expression to his “grand” vision of a Bharat that he keeps talking about. His lack of felicity in the English language is well known, but apart from some petty pseudo-Stephenians, I have not heard people calling him incompetent on account of this deficiency. But where Modi let his followers and the BJP down is in trying to be too reticent and economical with grand ideas. The clichéd replies to most of the mild questions have not unfolded his vision and given no insight into how he intends to lift the country out of the morass into which the last ten years of Congress “misrule” have dumped it. Here was an opportunity to expand his base across the country by outlining the political and economic strategy which would benefit the common man, irrespective of caste or creed. He touched upon almost all these subjects but his answers appeared to be too defensive; as if he was afraid of speaking his mind and giving a handle to the opposition to draw him over coals. When asked specific questions about economic development in Gujarat and on infant mortality and malnutrition, he offered no statistics to back up his assertions, leaving such sensitive issues open to debate. The Narendra Modi of this interview was no lion of Gujarat.
And to compound it all, his reply to the simple question that if he regretted the events of 2002, was perhaps the worst that any politician could have given. The “puppy” analogy was absolutely thoughtless and insincere. No amount of spin can undo the damage that this one remark has done. Narendra Modi’s “team” that he proudly talks about in the interview could have prepared him better. There were no trick questions that required thinking on one’s feet, and the event should have been a breeze. Could he not simply have stated that all lives were precious and wanton loss was extremely painful? A simple translation in Hindi like “har prani bahumulya hai” would have carried his message clearly. I know what I would have said if I were asked that question. Paraphrasing, with apologies to the poet John Donne, I would say:
“Any man, woman, or child’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for me!”