Video Editor: Mohd Irshad
With the Lok Sabha 2019 elections inching closer, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, 5 April, followed up his chat with Republic Bharat's Arnab Goswami with yet another interview – this time to ABP News's Rubika Liyaquat and Sumit Awasthi.
And yet again, the interview played out in an unsurprisingly similar fashion – with key issues completely ignored, counter-questions conveniently forgotten, and ample time devoted to things like the PM's ‘navratra schedule’ and his ‘amazing energy.’
So here's a look back at the interview that was, and the shape and form it could/should have taken.
The NaMo TV Controversy
First things first, let's focus on the most recent controversy to hit the Modi government – that over the recent launch of NaMo TV, a channel which focuses only on the speeches and rallies of PM Modi and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. Questions have been raised about the channel’s legality and ownership, besides complaints of it violating the Model Code of Conduct.
The time was ripe to question Modi over the channel, and the ABP interviewers did raise the issue. As the question was posed, there were chuckles on both the sides, with Modi saying, "Yes, some people are running it. I haven't been able to see it. I don't get the time."
And then, in the blink of an eye, the focus suddenly shifted to the BJP's prospects in West Bengal, with no counter-questions asked on an issue wherein there's so much of scope to probe.
On Rahul Contesting From Two Seats
Moving on, with sufficient chatter over Congress President Rahul Gandhi contesting from two seats – Amethi and Wayanad, it was not surprising that Modi was asked to comment about Gandhi’s decision. But what he was not questioned about were the controversial comments that he made while campaigning in Maharashtra's Wardha on 1 April.
Without naming Rahul Gandhi, PM Modi had said the Congress is scared, and so it has fielded its leader from a constituency where the majority (read the Hindu community) was a minority.
What more, in the same speech, he had slammed the Congress for using the 'Hindu terror' metaphor, and rhetorically asked, "Is there a single incident in the history of thousands of years of Hindus engaging in terrorism?"
These were loaded statements, and generated substantial amount of controversy. But were any targeted questions asked of the prime minister on them? No.
One segment of the ABP interview featured a significantly long discussion on Indian Muslims, starting with the question: What is the relationship between Modi and Indian Muslim? Why is there a lack of trust?
The interviewers further asked questions relating to Modi's relationship with Muslim majority countries, the action that has been taken against people who have called for Muslims to go to Pakistan, and the fielding of Muslim candidates. Modi's reaction to these various questions was to stress on India's unity, and emphasise on his slogan of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.'
But conspicuous in their absence were questions on the targeted violence against Muslims, including the various instances of lynchings.
Couldn’t the recent incident in Gurugram or the presence of Dadri lynching accused during one of UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s rally form the basis of a question on communal polarisation in the country?
The Question of Jobs
The familiar issue of jobs did figure in ABP's interview of Modi, but like before, it seemed certain tough questions were conveniently glossed over to let the PM's narrative have its way.
The answer that Modi gave was similar to what he said in his interview to Arnab Goswami, and so was the absence of cross-questioning on the controversy over unemployment data. Modi went on about the MUDRA scheme, a CII report on the MSME sector, pension scheme, doubling of roads, rails and airports, to argue that substantial employment has been created.
But what about the NSSO report on jobs that revealed the unemployment rate in India, at 6.1 percent, to be at a 45-year high? Didn’t that make for a probing question, among many others?
The government has refused to publish reports. RBI data base has no record of employment situation after 2011-12. Economic Surveys have stopped giving updated numbers. However, CMIE says unemployment rate stands at 7.1 percent now.
The 'Tonic of Energy' and the Navratras
While crucial cross-questioning may have been absent on other issues, there were two areas where questions seemed to be enthusiastically pursued.
In Modi's interviews, the 'pressing' question of 'How do you get so much energy?' seems to have become a sort of a tradition. And in this interview, no exception was made, with one of the interviewers asking (even while recognising that there might be criticism for asking the question) – “Modiji, why don't you get tired? Are you taking a tonic?”
And in a manner expected, the PM answered the question in vivid detail, replete with anecdotes.
In another segment of the interview, the interviewers at ABP News thought it was important to question him about his fasting schedule in light of navratras starting on 6 April.
From whether he would fast during navratras this time around to whether he does not eat anything to whether it would be less difficult from the fast in September-October, the interviewers gave considerable attention to learn about Modi's navratri plans.
But here’s some food for thought: Wouldn’t it have been better to instead use this screen-time to follow up on some of the important issues like unemployment, demonetisation and agrarian distress with tough questions?
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