“I am in fear, there is no humour left in public life because of this fear. Everyone is scared. I am in fear.” This is how Prime Minister Narendra Modi explained the lack of jokes in his speeches (that narrative has changed since demonetisation) to Arnab Goswami in that interview in 2016.
With politicians tearing viciously into one another in recent times, a trend that almost no one is exempt from, good humour and grace between political adversaries is a thing of the past. Literally, as this TV discussion from more than a decade ago shows.
Years before he became prime minister, and even before he became the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi, then the BJP’s general secretary, appeared on a television show with Congress leader Jairam Ramesh hosted by journalist Vir Sanghvi. Both the politicians were younger and less bitter.
“I think the Congress is being honest when it says that it will not try to topple the [NDA] government,” Modi said when asked by Sanghvi about the Congress’s intentions. “Because the immediate goal and strategy of the Congress is to finish the Third Front and win back their voters to the Congress. And till that is accomplished, they will not turn to us.”
To this, Ramesh who seemed impressed by the analysis, promptly replied: “Modi sahab, if you’d like to leave the BJP, then there’s a vacancy for you in the Congress.”
“You’ll face lots of problems, I am from (the) Sangh parivar,” said Modi with a laugh. The exchanges did not descend to rancour, and the debate continued with restraint and cogency.
On social media, inevitably, this exchange has been turned into an “epic response by Modiji”, while others have noted an early sign of Modi’s interest in haute couture.
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The change in Modi’s public persona was noted too.