Sorted, well prepared and I- Will-Dodge-What-I-Can – these words aptly define the much awaited interview of the political season – ‘Modi: Frankly Speaking with Arnab’. I am sure there would be thousands waiting for a repeat of the Karan Thapar episode but BJP's Prime Ministerial Candidate disappointed them as the interview went on for about more than an hour. (*without much water breaks and without anybody running, much to the producer’s surprise!)
The moment Modi answered the first question, it was clear that he is prepared to take the bullet and he isn't going to worry about chipping his molars. But considering Arnab’s encounters with Rahul Gandhi and Lalu Prasad couple of months back, I was expecting the Modi interview to be more spicy and fierce. Unfortunately, the interview looked like some of Modi’s previous interviews – where he is seen preaching and the journalist is bound to say, ‘Aye Aye Captain!’ and move along.
I understand that it’s difficult to be a journalist. You have to be firm and ask all the tough questions but at the same time tread carefully around sensitive issues. Before I get shouted at by The News Hour fans, let me clarify that I do believe Arnab asked the right questions but sincerely, the interview lacked the usual Arnab aura which is why it looked more or less of a formality.
Having said this let me come to the nitty gritties of the interview. Here’s what worked and what didn’t in my view:
Where Modi clearly silenced his critics:
In response to the Adani question, Modi very clearly laid out the policies of the Gujarat government and the land allocation process. His willingness and clear invitation for all probes and fact finding missions showed the confidence he has in the work done.
Modi’s assertion that this will be the strongest elected government since the demise of Rajiv Gandhi reflected his belief system and his preparedness for the same. Also, talking about Dawood versus Shinde, he clearly disapproved of Shinde’s methodology of calling a press conference.
When Arnab asked about the involvement of the Sangh Parivar in the 2002 Gujarat riots, Modi’s eyes for less than a second looked for another way but soon returned to his sincere self. Return of the ghosts past? Well, we can debate on that as long as we live but Modi shifted the subject to judiciary. Only constitutional authorities should be trusted, he said. Need we say more?
On being asked about his grouse with the Election Commission, Modi aptly replied that there is no question of disrespect for election commission and that if there is any disagreement with them, he will show displeasure but everything will be within the defined democratic laws of the land. It looked that he was clear on obeying the democratic framework.
And yes, those folded hands at the end of the interview thanking the viewers and saluting the spirit of democracy was just the icing on the cake. He is clearly someone who knows how to make an impact. Fake or real, time will tell.
Now, let’s talk about the part where Modi tried to be smart and sidelined the questions. Here is in my view what clearly did not work:
BJP's preference for Hindus and the issue of India being a refuge for persecuted Hindus across the world - this has got to be the most hilarious manoeuvring of words in this campaign. And yes I know the standards of ‘most hilarious’ have been set high by numerous others over the last six months. Foot in the mouth is a situation most politicians in India proudly live with. Modi moved from Hindus to Hinduism and said that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. I am sure Advani is very impressed.
The flip-flop on Didi, Amma and our dear Behenji is indeed worrisome. Moreover Modi’s statement that arithmetic works in parliament but it doesn't help in running a nation makes one wonder if his politics of convenience would prove to be more disastrous than the politics of compulsion. The cruelties that coalition compulsion brought along during UPA-2 is still fresh in our minds and we definitely do not need re-cap of the same. Also, this open door strategy questions Modi’s previous talk about forming the strongest government.
The refusal to provide clarity on the Pakistan issue clearly showed his inability to have clear policies. It looks like he is waiting to see which parties need to be pleased post-election results before taking a call on it. Similarly, his inability to provide a proper stance on US, forces one to think if he is the right person to give proper directions to the otherwise dying foreign policies of India.
Modi failed to provide reasonable answer on the issue of Snoopgate. He very conveniently shifted the focus to the judiciary. He looked clearly uncomfortable with the Snoopgate issue and Arnab looked clearly uneasy at Modi's reaction. I am sure it brought back flash memories of Modi's famous walking away from an interview few years back.
Modi raising the caste issue in his response to Priyanka Gandhi – it was very distasteful of him to have brought his lower caste into the election campaign especially when his campaign revolves around the concept of ‘Ek Bharat, Shresth Bharat’. Also, in all his campaigns he has been making personal attacks on the Gandhi family but on being asked about any animosity with them, Modi seemed to take the higher road on this question. We all have a memory Modiji, this one can't fly. We expect better explanations!
Net-net, it was a good performance by a seasoned politician. I think it was better than most of the politician's interviews I have seen this election season (the closest second will be the Rajnath Singh interview). But if Modi is the guy who will be leading my country for the next five years, I would have expected him to come clean and honest on multiple other areas. If Modi is the real deal as his social army seems to suggest, I would have expected a little more.
The next station is May 16th, when we will all get to know what the nation thinks. NaMo or Feku, the truth shall set you free. While the throne in Delhi waits for a new leader my question here is - should silence give way to secrecy? Should incompetence be the new coalition compulsion? Should my-way-or-the-highway be sugar coated as democracy?
Do let us know the questions you would have asked if you were Arnab - Tweet with #IfIWereArnab and talk to us.
The author is the Founder and CEO of OMLogic Consulting.