Arnab-Modi Interview: Heralding Indian Media’s Pravda-isationTheQuintOpinion
On Monday night, a weary newspaper reporter arrived home well past 11 pm. Quizzed as usual on how the day treated him, he exclaimed with irritation: “I imagined myself as a Mann Ki Baat veteran having written reports on all the 21 episodes. But the same on two consecutive days is a bit too much.” For him, the Narendra Modi interview with Arnab Goswami was another episode of the prime minister’s radio show because it was virtually a monologue.
The interview, in actuality, epitomises the long-running magic show with Modi as the illusionist-in-chief and his love for soliloquy. From childhood, he liked being on stage and did not approve the lead role being assigned to anyone else. Without a doubt, he is yet to give up the habit. But it was fine till he played bit roles in national politics. Once he became prime minister, there was no escaping the delusion of greatness that has become mainstream social discourse.
Modi promotes falsity of achievement of ‘his’ government with sheer acting skills. Barely a month ago, did he not declare during the anniversary show on Doordarshan that the broadcaster should have presented the programme for several days to enable him to talk about all successes of his regime?
Every public appearance is an act, a scene to be stolen. One, however, has to grant him due credit for his success in converting opportunities into success because none of his peers – most importantly from the Congress party – match up to him. But did India vote for someone who was enacting all the time?
The media, even the English (TV) media which he tactically disparages, is an able ally because when Modi speaks, nothing else is on air. In Modi’s India, the Pravda-isation (Pravda is Russia’s oldest Communist newspaper) began within hours of his swearing-in. It remains to be seen for how long the last of those who are yet to fall in line completely continue their spirit of questioning.
The moment his speeches (interview on Monday) begin rolling, Modi’s Twitter feed comes alive and thousands of ‘Retweets’ and ‘Likes’ clutter cyberspace and trigger the play of alert tones and vibrators of mobiles. And people’s egos inflate when their responses are ‘Retweeted’ or ‘Liked’ by others. It’s so simple to satisfy people!
Twitterisation of Political Discourse
Modi has led the Twitterisation of India’s political discourse. For all his commitment to democracy and how Parliament is its temple, if Modi could, he would disband the Election Commission and outsource conduct of polls to Facebook and / or Twitter. Curse me if you must, for having given the idea – there is ample time after all. Didn’t he declare that he or his party are to be in government at least till 2040?
By the way, which other prime minister or chief executive of other countries endorses F&T as regularly as Modi does? Moreover, what percentage of Indians have the knowledge, insight and time after making their daily bread to get on social media?
Seduction by Presentation
It is tough not getting seduced by Modi’s presentation and believing that nothing actually happened in India until his advent. Because he is a master copycat – even his election campaign was borrowed from Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign (remember Modi chanting ‘yes we can, yes, we will do it!’ in Hyderabad’s LB Stadium in August 2013); he has demonstrated tremendous virtuosity in presenting UPA’s programmes as his own.
Continuity is essential in governance – employment guarantee was initiated by PV Narasimha Rao – though regimes often legitimately temper with change. But the stamp of the past must be accepted albeit grudgingly. It thus came as a surprise that he acknowledged that “every government has made an effort” when talking how previous governments too played a role in important gains made by securing membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
In 2004, when the NDA launched the ‘India Shining’ campaign, they erred by believing their own words. The make-belief was eventually rejected by people in elections.
Modi is still pursuing the same strategy – presenting Indians with a fantasy. False hopes are generated – one good monsoon will eternally resolve India’s chronic farm crisis. And if it doesn’t, there is a back-up plan: “agriculture is a state subject”.
With intensive use of technology and more than modest help from diverse professional groups ranging from media, business and academia, the untruth is relentlessly marketed. This strategy has never worked in the past elections but instruments of dissemination have never been so intensive and wide-ranging. Therein, lies the danger – especially in the absence of alternatives. The Gulag of the mind is in the process of making.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin)