Even Modi's 'biggest regret' is misplaced

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Nilanjan MukhopadhyayJul 05, 2016 | 15:06

Even Modi's 'biggest regret' is misplaced

What do you make of a prime minister who, more than two years into his job, declares that his biggest regret is that he has not been able to win over the section of media that was not supportive of his policies and vision prior to the parliamentary polls in 2014?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with select group of journalists on Monday (July 4), and also gave time to them individually for brief interactions.


In this private round of exchange, when asked about his regrets, he told the Indian Express: "Before and during the parliamentary elections, there was a section of the media which strongly hoped that we would not win. My regret is that in the last two years, I have not been able to convince or persuade that section regarding our point of view. My challenge is to win over these sceptics, and persuade them of our sincerity and good intentions."

Surely, there are many other issues that should have been a cause for distress, and regret, and the readers would be able to easily identify them.

It would have done wonders for Modi's image and would have enabled him to shed his partisan coating if he had said that his biggest disappointment was that a section of his own party leaders had not understood the responsibility that the majority bestowed on them and remained on the path of confrontation and promotion of social prejudices.

Surely, there are many other issues that should have been a cause for the PM's regret. 

Very few will, however, believe that the media not falling in line is the prime minister's biggest failure. In fact, this should not have been among the prime minister's important objectives because a vibrant media is the sign of greater maturity of a democracy. Similarly, a leader who can take criticism in his stride is also the one who learns from his mistakes.


Any leader who brooks no criticism is someone with a very strong megalomaniacal trait. For years, when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, he and his supporters always portrayed the English-speaking media as fundamentally opposed to him. He argued that its journalists acted as handmaidens of the Congress or other anti-BJP parties.

In India, the media has never been as institutionally divided as in several other developed democracies where different media groups have traditionally displayed either a liberal or conservative bias and have even taken sides openly during elections. However, Modi has claimed that the English media is almost totally under the sway of the left-liberals.

This is factually incorrect because a large number of journalists in English (also Hindi and other regional languages) media have always supported Modi and the BJP. But this tactic of painting oneself as a victim of vendetta fits neatly into the Hindutva template that sees any group in disagreement with it as being a result of its exposure to Western liberalism.


This strategy of portraying himself as a target has enabled Modi to consolidate his support base within his core constituency. The ploy is to create an enemy and then target it. Attacking the so-called secular media provides a sense of commonality and forges "unity" for a cause - in this case, it is Modi's victory and/or continued support for him.

The Sangh Parivar, in order to explain the causes for only a modest support for it among the English-speaking intelligentsia till very recently, made an attempt to establish the education and social system as faulty. However, it never looked within.

It reflects the civilisational agenda of the Sangh Parivar and the way in which nationalism is defined by it, clearly distinct from the alternative viewpoint.

No media organisation has people doing the same thing. There are people in the backroom and there are those who are more visible who either report or write articles and columns.

In television too, there is a clear distinction between those who go the field and provide the news and visuals and others who comment in studio discussions. Reporters in newspapers and television do not editorialise and respectable newspapers and TV channels always provide space to a variety of commentators. Modi and his supporters make no distinction between these.

We are extremely fortunate to have a media that is much more open than that in several countries including a few in our region.

Political leaders must not just respect this space but also try expanding it instead of limiting it. For journalists, the primary constituency is the reader or viewer and anyone expecting that we write or telecast for players in the political, social, business or sports arenas are attempting to control information flow. This is against the tenets of the media industry.

Reporters must report faithfully and commentators must scrutinise labouriously. There is a need to examine every claim and question each agreement. No consensus should be considered a holy cow.

Just as the prime minister's task is to build political consensus, our readers and viewers expect us to examine this consensus and analyse if it is wise or whether there is need to forge another agreement.

Besides portraying events, the media's task is also to enact the role of interpreter of maladies. The prime minister should stop looking at the media as a malady of sorts as his confession in the interaction with journalists revealed.

Last updated: July 05, 2016 | 17:36
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