How Modi turned the interview with Arnab Goswami to his advantage

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Nilanjan MukhopadhyayJun 27, 2016 | 22:14

How Modi turned the interview with Arnab Goswami to his advantage

An interviewee will only answer that much as the interviewer asks.

Narendra Modi's interview with Arnab Goswami on Times Now was not one to grill the prime minister but provide an opportunity to present his case. There were only rare supplementary queries none of which, however, were on crucial issues which needed to be probed - for instance, the action that his party was contemplating against motormouths in the run-up to the polls in Uttar Pradesh?


This was for all purposes, a Doordarshan-style interview but with better production values. And of course a top class anchor. Even sympathetic handling has to be executed with finesse to ensure it does not appear like a ham-handed DAVP PR exercise.

Why has the PM chosen this moment for the interview? 

No harm in that too. It was time that Indians heard Modi in the lower octaves. His shrill tone was missing but the sarcasm did not evaporate, especially when he talked about "sirf ek party" as being responsible for repeated parliamentary logjam.

Why has the PM chosen this moment for the interview though his second anniversary a month ago may have been more apt an occasion? It's not that he didn't have time - after all he spoke to the 'Wall Street Journal'.

For the first time in two years, someone has challenged Modi and his aides upfront and from such close quarters. After having nominated (or been "suggested" to do so) Subramanian Swamy to the Rajya Sabha barely a couple of months ago, the Sangh's freethinking "asset" was becoming a liability for Modi.

His authority was being questioned and suggestions were being made that Swamy was actually acting at Modi's behest to harm Union finance minister Arun Jaitley. Modi and Jaitley resorted to their signature silence till the moment Swamy's guns were trained on Raghuram Rajan.


But when the diatribe continued, Modi had to speak if only to demonstrate that he was still the boss and Jaitley was not being left to the wolves. He wouldn't make a Vajpayee-style error and allow the impression to gain currency that he was not in charge. The interview would also greatly assuage Jaitley and restore his confidence if it had been shaken in actuality.

But there was no supplementary question asking why Swamy was nominated in the first instance knowing his track record. Modi doesn't draw censure for his party colleague but merely expresses disapproval: "One should be more responsible while conducting themselves." Does this convey any message to the rugged streetfighter Swamy?

Rest assured, Modi's tick-off will at best have a short-lived effect on the Harvard-returned economist. He is like the proverbial dog's tail that stays crooked even if it is buried for 12 years.

Barely weeks into his tenure, Modi began providing legitimacy to motormouths or what was also termed fringe forces.

I consistently argued that there was no fringe in the Sangh Parivar or BJP because there was only one stream - mainstream. The only difference being which hue of saffron they chose to don.


Naturally, with Uttar Pradesh polls due in early 2017, the question is whether the party will follow the development path as Modi declared in Allahabad at his party's national executive meeting, or opt for the route shown by party president Amit Shah when he declared that issues arising out of Kairana were alarming and needed to be opposed by all patriots.

So will the BJP use the D-word or the P-word (polarisation)?

Modi's answer was constructed on flimsy grounds - "If we provide employment to people, if we ensure there's food on their plates, if we provide them with facilities and give them education, all the tension will end."

No, Mr prime minister, the extent of communalism in society at a given moment cannot be reduced into an algebraic equation with the levels of deprivation in the country.

To end communalism, political parties have to first stop playing the communal card and in this case, as the campaign in 2014 demonstrated, the BJP is most guilty of its use in Uttar Pradesh.

Modi did not have a word of criticism for those who are already stirring the cauldron, nor was he asked if the party would contemplate action against those who used unacceptable words and line of campaign. No word on building false hysteria over Hindu desertions from Kairana.

The interview was also held in the shadow of the overhyped Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bid, perceived by people as a foreign policy failure of the government despite all-out efforts of the government to apportion all blame on Beijing. Modi has an ingenuous argument that only he is capable of:

"... my trip to the United States of America, my speech in their Congress and the respect shown towards India created a lot of hype. Had it not been hyped so much, there would not have been so much criticism on the NSG issue. Government is being criticised not for any mishandling of the NSG issue but because we were so successful over there (in the USA).

"Did China become conscious of your growing friendship with US?" he was asked and he replied: "I am talking about what's happening here."

In Hindi there is a phrase - chit bhi meri, pat bhi meri (heads I win, tails you lose). To err is human but who is talking about mortals here?

But Modi remains an effective communicator and showed in the interview that he has lost no prowess in hijacking an opening and converting into an opportunity.

The manner in which he stole the scene deflecting the question on overdependence on monsoon demonstrated Modi's capacity in avoiding questions and steering replies into a terrain that is not the home ground of the interviewer. When he is asked again, Modi brings up, for the second time that "agriculture is a state subject". Just like rising food prices!

Whatever is positive in the country is owing to the Centre's policies (and state governments where BJP is in power) and all woes are the result of Opposition parties and their state regimes.

The interview had enough for the prime minister's official Twitter feed and most of this has been articulated with ease. This was an interview for which Modi had all the time because it's time and need had clearly come. Why, is a completely different story!

Last updated: June 28, 2016 | 14:02
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