Modi conquers the media

Women journalists desperate for selfie with Modi

Faraz Ahmad

He came, he spake, he left smiling, enthusiastically encouraging the obsequious hacks particularly the nubile female lot to get themselves selfied with him. This was Narendra Modi’s highly billed, covered live by all news TV channels, first interaction with the media on the 152nd day of becoming the Prime Minister of India at the BJP headquarters 11, Ashoka Road on October 25. No questions and no answers, belying all the expectations built by the same channels till Modi arrived an hour late at the strike of 12 noon. The ostensible raison d’ etre was to greet the fawning media Shubh Deepawali three days after Diwali, a tradition, we were informed , Modi has maintained since his Gujarat days where he would invite the entire media for a Diwali Milan and exchange greetings, which he has now carried all the way to Delhi, informed an enthusiastic Times Now TV channel reporter some Aditi, panting breathlessly. But the invitations were selective at least here in Delhi this time. For instance Lokmat seems to have been deliberately kept out of the list of invitees. First no intimation was sent to the Lokmat Bureau chief Jaishankar Gupta who covers the beat. But somehow the information leaked and so yours truly called up BJP secretary Media in charge Shrikant Sharma an old friend who has all along been sending all information promptly to me without fail to this day, but significantly omitted me this time. So I called him up. The phone rang twice but no reply. Thereafter I sent a txt message at 7.41 pm:  “Is the PM PC at Ashoka Road and what time?” Shrikant promptly sent back a terse message “No” within two minutes at 7.43. There was no further message nor any explanation that this was not a press conference but just a “Diwali Milan.” I therefore took the whole buzz about Modi’s event as one more media rumour and forgot all about it. Till I opened my TV set at 11 am Saturday and saw the event being relayed live by all TV channels. But I was not alone denied entry to the hallowed portals of BJP headquarters now doubly purified by the presence of both Modi and his encounter murder accused party president Amit Shah. There were others too. There was no Venkaiah Naidu, nor Ravi Shankar Prasad nor Nitin Gadkari and we hardly see the low profile Railway Minister D V Sadanand Gowda anywhere around Modi these days. Even Modi’s “Special Sister” Smriti Irani was conspicuous by her absence. Maneka Gandhi never attends any BJP functions at its headquarters.  And we are only talking of BJP stalwarts. The select visible included Javadekar who also seemed to be part of the reception committee for he was there to receive and see off Modi. The cock sure Piyush Goyal was among the select few. Minister of State in the PMO Jitender Singh, who doubles as Modi’s personal assistant could be seen rushing in only when Modi was leaving. In a rare display of partisan politics, almost all the senior bureaucrats were there occupying the front row. It was a rare sight because normally bureaucrats are neither invited nor attend party functions particularly those held at party offices.  Most of them rushing to greet India TV proprieter Rajat Sharma showing who has a clout in Modi’s dispensation. Mian Jamaluddin (MJ) Akbar a recent convert was somewhere there in the background perpetually wearing a plastic grin on his face, whom Modi did not even bother to notice, wasting the poor man’s grinning mask. Arun Jaitley arrived early but chose to sit among the audience with the journalists. To dispel the widely held impression of cold wibes between the Prime Minister and his Home and External Affairs Ministers, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj, they were given the pride of place on the dais, flanking Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on either side. The only others considered worthy of it were current rising star in the BJP its general secretary Jagat Prakash Nadda and Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar and of course Shrikant Sharma, who compered the programme. Shah made a brief speech omitting Sushmna from his address and specially mentioning Shrikant Sharma, telling the hacks to stop calling Modi inaccessible hereafter. Modi rose to strike a chord with the fawning media by claiming how he once used to arrange chairs at the very same place for journalists as BJP secretary. Actually he never laid out any chairs, neither as national secretary of the BJP 1995-1996, when he had hitched his bandwagon to the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi and travelled with Joshi on his Yatra to Srinagar to hoist the national flag, nor as General Secretary (Organisation), 1998-2001, when he got Arun Jaitely to build a luxurious “Outhouse” in the adjacent 9, Ashoka Road, allotted to Jaitley because this so called chai wala did not want to live in the Sanghi bachleors’ commune occupying the main bungalow. But he fondly remembered those days and promised to find time to have a more informal interaction with the media men “For we don’t just get news but greater insight from you because you have a better perspective of things from outside.” He commended the media for enthusiastically participating in and promoting his Swachch Bharat Abhiyan and how they have turned their pens into brooms. He ended it by virtually saying  that the people and the media should no more expect the state to do anything for them and instead now brace themselves to  “We will all do it together.” The Sunday papers, The Hindu included, were full of praise for Modi’s gesture of commending the media but not a word anywhere that the Chhappan Chhati treated the media the same way he treats his election audience as dumb wide eyed listeners, who dare not throw an embarrassing question at him.

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