THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 2 JANUARY, 2019
Dent in the Modi magic?
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s carefully “scripted” 95 minute interview to ANI seemed to be addressing the BJP and critics within and without. Senior MPs while discussing the reasons for the interview said that it was intended to one, answer questions that the BJP itself was raising and two, get back into positive headlines after the negativity triggered off by the defeat in the five Assembly elections. And most importantly, defend himself as his own best spokesperson as he is not very sure of the ability of BJP spokespersons to do the same.
The Opposition was out on the social media even as the interview was being aired on January 1 describing it as “scripted” and “manufactured.” The Congress was castigating in its comments as were other opposition leaders like Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha who told The Citizen that the interview was staged, “but not just that, even the questions were more in the nature of feeding rather than grilling the Prime Minister.”
The political assessment emerging from Parliament, with BJP leaders also of the same view is that the Prime Minister was not happy with the party response to the defeat in Madhya Pradesh. Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh in particular with MPs raising questions about these, in his absence, at a recent parliamentary party meeting of the BJP. As an opposition leader said, the BJP MPs are openly critical now and the PM is clearly not happy with this. He has been changing spokespersons, Jha pointed out, with Minister Smriti Irani being brought out to address a press conference after a long hiatus. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley led the BJP charge in the Lok Sabha today on the Rafale deal, with the discussion being opened by Congress President and MP Rahul Gandhi.
PM Modi made it clear in the interview that one, neither he nor party president Amit Shah were to blame for the defeat; that it was largely due to anti incumbency; and that, as he reminded viewers, the BJP had won other elections during the year including Tripura. He also sought to clarify that he and Shah were not in charge, and that the BJP was an organisation with full say in its working. There has been a charge of authoritarianism and lack of accessibility from within the party with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari taking a lead in raising these concerns in the weeks after the electoral defeat.
The headlines have not been very favourable for a while insofar as the Prime Minister, generally very popular with the national media, is concerned. The interview is also being seen as an attempt to get back into the news, with the questions being worded a little more critically than in the past. As Jha said, “the PM was sure that there would be enough in the interview for the media to chew over the next few days but the audio took over and has killed the interview really on the social media.” He was referring to an audio take of Goa Minister Vishwajit Rane saying the files of the controversial Rafale deal are in Goa chief minister and former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s bedroom.
Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi sought to raise the tape during his speech in the Lok Sabha asking the Speaker if he could play it. This was clearly semantics as permission without authentication was denied, with the Congress party releasing the tape at a press conference outside. Jaitley rose to ask Rahul Gandhi to authenticate the tape, the Speaker disallowed it on the same grounds.
The third reason arises from the sudden prominence of Nitin Gadkari who is reportedly being backed by the RSS as a possible PM candidate if the BJP under PM Modi does not return with sufficient seats to form a government on its own. This is arising from the realisation that most political parties are reluctant to enter into an alliance under the current Prime Minister, with allies like Telugu Desam having left the NDA midway and others like the Shiv Sena chafing at the bit.
PM Modi in his interview took care to point out that one all allies were with him in the NDA, that more were joining as in the North East, and that the coalition was strong. And would remain strong.
Rahul Gandhi said that the PM looked tired during the interview, an observation being made by many MPs in Parliament who said the earlier confident persona was missing. A Janata Dal (U) MP was vocal in his agreement saying that the Prime Minister seems to have lost his “bounce” as he put it.
The Prime Minister, however, had this to say about the criticism, “ When they say this (Modi wave/Modi magic) .That means people are admitting Modi wave. Check media reports of 2013-14, newspaper and TV debates. A set of persons are there who kept saying that `There is no Modi wave, Modi can’t do anything’.Those same set of persons, may be some have increased or decreased in number, have a responsibility to keep setting a narrative. I am happy that they accept, there is a word called Modi wave or Modi magic.”