He is a fantastic orator, no body, absolutely nobody can match the way he engages the audience. The other person who comes close is Atal, for he used pauses so effectively that the baritone was amplified and silences sounded melodious. Our hon PM Narendra Modi (NaMo) has addressed hundreds of rallies and cumulatively probably every third adult Indian has had the opportunity to experience his oratory.
People love his oratory for he speaks from his heart, no scripted speeches for him, speaks on subjects close to the masses and most importantly he speaks in a familiar language. Unlike most other contemporary leaders who fail to connect with the audience. Some fail for their lack of grasp others for their accent which commoners find alien.
Besides the speeches in rallies, NaMo has also initiated the institution of Man Ki Baat, in which he freely shares his opinions on matters close to his heart in a direct talk to the citizens. If we thought that is not enough, he has redefined tweeting, has the highest number of followers among the political class, again for the simplicity of his messages that appeal to the masses.
So how can such a man who communicates so much and so frequently be mystery man? These contradictions are inherent and have always been part of his persona.
He was voted to power in Gujarat thrice, had won the best chief minister award eight times. He put Gujarat on a high growth trajectory. Just as no one can take these huge achievements from him, he also has to deal with some serious failures under his regime, which had far reaching global consequences to the extent US had cancelled his visa. This combination of superlative achievements on one hand and administrative failures on the other hand makes it difficult to comprehend him.
On Sep 27th 2012, when Economist had asked NaMo, he was the CM of Gujarat then, how does he take criticism, and the answer was very beautiful for it showed an aware mind keen to make the most of criticisms, like someone constructing an house with all the bricks thrown at him,
“I’m telling you, the essence of democracy is criticism. I always welcome criticism. But I am against the allegations. What we hear is not a criticism, it is an allegation. So we must differentiate what is criticism and what is allegation. You have every right to do the criticism. I am beneficiary from criticism. I learn so many things through the criticism.”
How did the man evolve as he moved from the provincial stage to the national stage and slowly as we see him going all out to play a global role, something that only Nehru had managed in the past. Does he still believe in what he had told the Economist way back in 2012?
Being a public figure, he would be closely watched, observed and analysed. Some opinions are bound to be positive, while some may not be. Was everyone out there to make allegations or were some of them just critical of a public figure that he is? More importantly how did the man himself take it, as criticism or as allegations?
Very little is known. We know what we are allowed to know. Nothing more! He has his favourite subjects on which he can talk for hours, like the Indo-US relation and his personal chemistry with his “friend Barack,” or the hopes of a 125 billion hearts, or the achievements of his Government. Tricky ones are skirted.
NaMo had answered the Ukraine question when Farid had interviewed him in Sep-2014, soon after he had become the PM. The answer was very diplomatic, which is probably the right way of dealing with a leader like Putin.
“Firstly, whatever happened there, innocent people died in a plane accident. That’s very saddening. These are not good things for humanity in this age. We have always expressed those views. There is a saying in India that the person who should throw a stone first is the person who has not committed any sins. In the world right now, a lot of people want to give advice. But look within them, and they too have sinned in some way. Ultimately, India’s view point is that efforts need to be made to sit together and talk, and to resolve problems in an ongoing process.”
Sometime later, after there was global censure of Russian adventurism, he was again asked for his opinion on the same subject when the team from Time Magazine had interviewed him in May 2015, on the completion of one year of his government, asked him, specifically whether India supported international sanctions against Russia. NaMo played it very diplomatically skirting the question by reiterating that he had already presented his viewpoint in the G20 summit.
Most of our Prime Ministers of yore had developed a good running relation with the Press, understanding the importance of the Fourth Estate in the functioning of a democracy and also as a facilitator for development. Good relation essentially means accepting the role the Press plays in the running of a democracy. This was reflected in the regular interviews they granted the Press. However, NaMo has a different way of managing the press.
Firstly some of his team members, and that includes some highly qualified people, term the press as Presstitutes, creating a new dictionary in the process, which does not reflect well on the freedom of speech. Agreed that some members of the Fourth Estate do not do justice to their role, but by terming the Press as Presstitutes neither the representatives do any justice to their roles.
He has not yet answered, and to be fair probably no one has asked him, as to why his interactions with the press are so far and few. Why is it that he prefers monologues, which is what speeches, tweets, or his favorite Man Ki Baat, over dialogues?
There was an interesting opinion on the subject by a Bangalore based journalist, Sunil Rajguru that was published in Nov-2015.
One of the reason, out of five, he cited was NaMo always gets bad press no matter what he does or says, as the mainstream media apparently is biased against him.
In the world of press, probably there are a dozen credible names in India and abroad, of repute to interview world leaders. NaMo, as PM, has been very eclectic in picking up the journalist to whom an interview shall be granted, and probably there has been no repeat interview with the same journalist or media house.
Like when he granted an interview to HT in Apr-2015 immediately after the Delhi Assembly debacle, he was still uncomfortable answering some tricky questions like, judicial activism, which he replied to very curtly in a couple of sentences unlike say the questions that were linked to opposition when the consummate politician elucidated with long drawn responses. The message was clear that he would rather talk on subjects that he likes and not on subjects that the journalists like. He is comfortable playing on his home wicket. Comfortable with monologues.
Like when Farid had questioned him, in the same interview, on the increasing incidence of crime against women, he stuck to his preferred turf,
“Look, us political pundits shouldn’t tangle ourselves up in knots by searching for the root cause of this problem. More damage is done by statements from political pundits. Dignity of women is our collective responsibility. There should be no compromise in this matter. There should be no erosion in the law and order situation. We have to revive the family culture in which a woman is respected and considered equal, her dignity encouraged. The main thing here is girl child education. By doing so the possibility of empowerment will increase. On August 15, my government pushed ahead a movement called: educate the girl, save the girl.”
He simplifies things like no one, in a very pragmatic way which comes from real world experience. This was displayed in May-2015 when the Tribune questioned him on the so-called “ache din”. It had been a year since he had become PM riding on the promise of good times, which were not visible on the ground.
“when visiting an ailing person, we say don’t worry, he’ll be well [“achha ho jayega”]. The word ‘achha’ [good] here is in the context of the ‘burra’ [bad] that the patient is going through. So my idea of ‘achhe din’ is riddance of that bad. And I believe we have achieved this.”
For critics that meant a smart cover up of failure to implement the electoral promises like the 15 lac was washed away as a “joomla”. Also if we study the interviews he has granted so far, rarely do journalists ask a secondary question on his response. He gets away with these simplistic answers.
Now for journalists, whether from the Indian media or the global media, this is a very fresh approach to break down the problems in a very fine granular form, probably reminiscent of some of the interviews that Mohandas Gandhi had given. NaMo straddles the past and the future simultaneously as almost on every issue he loves to remind us on the past, before moving onto the future. (continued)