There has been some buzz about Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeping the media at a distance. Modi, TV channels’ main pre-election TRP-busting protagonist, has gone missing, save formal speeches and tweets that do not say much. The new PM has opted not to travel abroad with the usual large press entourage that is used to being wined, dined and handed scoops in the form of well-drafted briefs by officials in the loop of the higher ups.
There has been no mandatory interaction with the press inside Air India One. As a matter of fact, there is no appointed media hand in the PMO to deal with journalists. Surely any future insider tome about the workings of the Prime Minister’s Office under Modi is not going to be penned by a journalist, unlike Sanjaya Baru’s ringside account about how the Manmohan government functioned (or rather did not function). Meanwhile, an angry Arnab Goswami continues to rave, rant, scold and quarrel on TV on issues considered very important for the nation to survive, in his assessment.
This obviously does not translate into the grand TRP ratings clocked when the TV cameras followed Modi on his high voltage acerbic election campaign trail this summer, when he ruffled the feathers of the likes of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalithaa. The nation cannot be blamed for expecting even more of Modi post the grand victory march in Varanasi, just as one assumes more of Salman Khan in the second half of a Salman Khan movie.
Otherwise, the audience would demand a refund from theatre owners due to the missing “Kick”. The latest Salman movie is about action, drama, melodrama, comedy, item numbers, technology and holograms mixed with deft Being Human marketing touches. It’s confusing, just like Modi’s disappearance from the media space in the last two months, following his shift from Gandhinagar to New Delhi. Is Modi treating The Fourth Estate right?
It is too early to make a definitive judgment. It is not as if the government has not been communicating. The suave Arun Jaitley, god-gifted with the amazing ability to speak many words and ideas at the same time, is often on TV. There have been detailed statements by finance, power or foreign ministers in Parliament, which seems to be functioning for a change.
Of course, a couple of comical asides have been Rahul Gandhi caught napping in the Lok Sabha or storming the well of the House. Gandhi needs some serious guidance beyond handholding by his sister and mother, his regular advisors. Either he scores no runs or wants to hit a political six. He needs to appoint somebody like Rahul Dravid to teach him the art of building innings. No doubt, there is some amount of hearsay about Modi’s style of working.
But I believe there has to be some method in the silence. This much is known, that Modi plans and plots his moves with clinical precision. Remember Modi is no IITian expected to make it to the top, like the young promoters of Flipkart. He started off as a mere Chaiwala whom Advani backed. The rest, as they say, is history, which Advani would like to re-write if he could. No doubt there is a game plan at play, a deliberate strategy that shields Modi away from the line of direct media fire and the obstreperous Goswami setting the PMO’s agenda for the day, responding to barbs and accusations.
In my opinion, Modi’s loud silence should not be misread as inaction or confusion, as under Manmohan. There are enough indications to show the government is at work adopting a gradualist rather than frenetic approach to change. This is better any day than the guerilla like hit-and-run governance tactics of Arvind Kejriwal. In case readers might have forgotten, Kejriwal happens to be the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader who wanted to become PM of India.
Important decisions, though not game changers, are being taken by the Modi government — movements on labor reforms, changes in attestation norm which is enormous relief to the common man, FDI in insurance, defense production and railways, amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act. There is continuity in foreign policy, social welfare schemes, while a sensible decision has been taken to persist with Aadhar. Ultimately, what will matter is making real differences to the lives of people, cutting across social and economic strata.
Perhaps the media too needs to evolve and move beyond news sourced from a few high-powered networks in Lutyen’s Delhi, especially North and South Block. While the scoops, scams, snoops, secret dealings and innuendos have their place in a thriving and thrashing democracy such as India, it is equally important to highlight successes and failures at grassroot levels, where delivery really matters and often fails. I, however, do think that Modi should reach out to The Fourth Estate. Not too often, but often enough. It is important.