PM’s diaspora event in London

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By HARVINDER AHUA

An orchestrated PR exercise

Sitting majestically in the packed Central Hall Westminster last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi handled questions ranging from his Government’s achievements and internal security to foreign affairs. The surprise choice of coordinator for this well-orchestrated event was film lyricist and Censor Board chief Prasoon Joshi.

At the end of the day, the marathon townhall event titled ‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sab KeSaath’, turned out to be aPR exercise televised live by TV news channels across the country. Coming at a time when there is so much of outrage over Kathua and Unnao rapes and huge discontent over host of issues, the ‘conversation’ with the PM on foreign shores seemed out of sync with the prevailing mood in the country.

It is ironical that a PM who has desisted from holding a single interaction with media in over four years of his tenure and who is known for keeping mum whenever issues of grave importance have cropped up, could spend over two hours communicating and mingling with people far away from home. Of course, the kind of questions he was asked, the way they were asked and the subtle praise every question was lacedwith left none in doubt about the purpose of this entire tutored exercise.

The manner in which Prasoon Joshi conducted the show was embarrassing, to say the least. First, the very choice of having the head of an independent Government body (CBFC), to act as sort of ‘media advisor’ to the PM was baffling. Secondly, there was no attempt at fielding tough and more relevant questions or doing cross-questioning. Moreover, the deference with which each question was asked was shocking indeed.

Apart from singing paeans for the Prime Minister at regular intervals, the tone and tenor of Joshi’s questioning was not just ‘un-journalistic’, it was far removed from objectivity. Sample this, his question to the PM about people’s impatience to see change in the country was: “When there is a talk about the country, you see it with great focus…Change has to undergo a process…Who knows it better than you?”On surgical strikes he said, “When you took this significant, historic and bold step…?” Besides, Joshi seemed visibly awe-struck with most of the PM‘s answers and even applauded the one by gushing a “Waah”!

As for the answers, Modi was undoubtedly at his eloquent best but how truthful and sincere he was is open to debate. Referring to the incidents of crime against women, particularly rape, he appeared to be at pain over the tendency to look at these cases from the prism of politics. “Should we say that the number of rapes were less during the previous Government and more in this Government?” the PMasked rhetorically. But this is exactly what is happening. Both the Kathua and Unnaorapes are being politicised by all political parties, including his own.

Modi’s characteristic bravado was at the fore when a question was asked about Pakistan’s hand behind terror attacks and surgical strike conducted by the Indian Army. “We must remain vigilant; we must remain victorious at all times. But if someone’s made a business out of terrorism, then I know how to hit back,” said the PM overlooking the fact that there has been no let-up in Pak’s terror campaign even after the Army action.

An astute politician that he is, Modi didn’t miss the opportunity to remember Lingayat philosopher, statesmanBasavesgwara. With Lingayats being a crucial factor in Karnataka polls, the Prime Minster took a dig at the earlier governments for focusing on “one family” and informed the audience that Basaveshwarahad been a big influence on him.One was left wondering when one heard this name from the PM before.

Expectedly enough, the PM also took customary potshots at the Congress President Rahul Gandhi.  “I do not need to read books to understand poverty”, he said, adding, “I have lived in poverty, I know what it is to be poor and belong to the backward sections of society.”Nobody, however, would fault him for that considering the next General Elections are less than a year away and Modiis a leader perpetually in election mode.

Political observers are also pointing towardssubtle implications in Modi’s reference to Mahatma Gandhi’s Jan Andolan while talking about his own attempts at participative democracy. “During the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi did something very different. He turned the freedom struggle into a mass movement…Today the need of the hour is to make development a mass movement”, said the Prime Minister. The emotional card was on full display in his references to “my life at the railway station” and “my personal struggles.”

The most significant ‘takeaway’ from the diaspora event was the PM’s remark: “I am happy to be criticised…It makes democracy strong, I want the Government to be criticised”.The statement doesn’t need to be commentedupon as it is in everybody’s knowledge how dissent is being responded to in the prevailing atmosphere in the country.

(The author is consulting Editor from New Delhi and can be reached at harrysnigi@gmail.com)