Modi’s 'Newsweek' Interview: Asking the Follow-Up Questions That Weren't

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Modi’s ‘Newsweek’ Interview: Asking the Follow-Up Questions That Weren’t

| Updated: April 13, 2024 12:19

The published version carries no questions. Instead Modi’s ‘answers’ are bundled under sub-headings. So we decided to ‘come in’ with our ‘own’ questions which we would have asked if the opportunity had come to us.

In the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, almost the entire global media and pro-government organisations within the Indian industry are lining up to produce documentaries, podcasts, special stories on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his policies, and programmes, besides trying to secure an ever-so-difficult-to-get interview.

Unlike when Modi was barred from several western nations, he is now a feted personality on the strength of the key and the access he holds to the Indian markets for these nations.

It is widely known that Modi dislikes the face-to-face interview format, unless it is pre-scripted, for it provides opportunities to the interviewer to ask supplementary questions. 

The Prime Minister devised a convenient way to get past this by taking written questions and replying in writing and thereafter regale representatives of media outfits with banter at his office. 

This way everybody is happy – the organisation ‘gets’ an interview, Modi evades spur of the moment questions and his replies are finely gone over several times by media managers. And, this way ‘dosti bani rahti hai (friendship is maintained)!’

In this season of Modi-obsession at least three interviews with the Prime Minister have been published in recent days but none has drawn the kind of eyeballs as the one granted to the team of three from the international publication, Newsweek

The other two – with Amar Ujala and Assam Tribune – are short and the questions were specific to Uttarakhand in the former, and to the north-eastern states, in the latter.

But, to what extend can the Newsweek interview be called a genuine Q&A session? The question arises because, “Modi addressed Newsweek’s written questions and followed up with a 90-minute conversation at his official residence.”

Reading the interview it is clear that there were no interjections and even if some questions in the published interview were posed during the conversation, they were straight questions and unquestioned replies. 

The published version carries no questions. Instead Modi’s ‘answers’ are bundled under sub-headings. 

This was not an old-style ‘grilling’ of the PM, a format that actually serves public cause. It merely provided space to Modi to make a series of claims without being challenged.

As a consequence, we decided to ‘come in’ with our ‘own’ questions which we would have asked if the opportunity had come to us.

On upcoming election

Modi said, “We have an excellent track record of fulfilling our promises. It was a big thing for the people, as they were used to promises never being fulfilled.” 

Before he went on to make the next claim on his motto which is known to all for being repeated ad nauseam, it would have been apt to ask, “But, sir, what about jobs?”

“You promised one crore jobs immediately that the Congress failed to provide. Your party manifesto promised 25 crore jobs in 10 years. Now that this period is over, what’s your progress report?

“You also promised 100 Smart Cities. How many have been developed in the past decade?

“Also sir, what about black money…no I am not asking about Rs 15 lakh in bank accounts that Amit Shah said was a jumla used by you, but what about getting back the money from Swiss banks? Has there been any progress, sir?

Modi thereafter mentioned his slogan: ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas (with everyone, development for all, the faith of all and the efforts of all).’

Our question at this: “But sir, what trust are we talking in the backdrop of your government taking no action against hate-spewing leaders of the Sangh Parivar and those who go around lynching Muslims merely under the suspicion of carrying and trading in beef?”

Ahead in the same sub-section, Modi explained that people developed ‘trust’ in the government, “that if someone else has got benefits of our programs, it will also reach them.”

At this point, we would have interjected, “Sir, the question is not of benefits from programmes, it is about rights enshrined in the Constitution and about India being an equal-rights nation, equal-opportunity country? 

“What steps has your government taken to ensure the constitutional rights are not trampled upon?

“Furthermore sir, why do you personally and several others in the government and in the Sangh Parivar emphasise more on fundamental duties than on rights? Why, even the former President, Ramnath Kovind, spoke about it referring to your speeches.”

Thereafter, Modi said in the interview that people had “seen that India has raced ahead from (being the) 11th largest economy to the fifth largest economy. Now the country’s aspiration is that India soon becomes the third largest economy.”

Here again, a natural poser from us would have been: “How has this helped the lives of the ordinary people? 

“Where does India rank in terms of per capita income? What are your views on the recent inequality index prepared by World Inequality Lab? 

“Why is it that you and today’s yes-persons are junking this report even as your own government has publicised India’s rise on the Gender Inequality Index 2022 as an indication of the success of your “Nari Shakti” initiative? 

In the interview Modi also claimed that “most popular governments start losing support. Discontent toward governments has also increased in the last few years in the world. India stands out as an exception, where popular support for our government is increasing.”

At this point we would have naturally butted in: “We do not want to pull out a long list of agitations and protests around the country. 

“But, sir, what are your views on the farmers’ strike in 2020-21 and again repeated in 2024 – do you still think of that as anti-national and backed by separatists and anti-nationals?”

On democracy and a free press

Modi said that democracy is being strengthened and that this is proven by “constantly increasing voter participation (which) is a big certificate for the people’s faith in Indian democracy.”

But this formulation is problematic, because it merely underscores people’s yearning to participate in the democratic process.

Democracy does not depend on the size of the electorate but on the fairness of the electoral process. 

We would thus ask Modi, “With the disparity in resources between the ruling party on the one hand, and Opposition parties on the other, as established by data available on the electoral bonds, can we say that this is a level-playing field?”

On the challenge of sustaining and sharing economic growth

On this issue, Modi claimed that “India has run the world’s largest poverty-eradication drive in the last 10 years and has pulled 250 million people out of poverty. Only four nations in the world have a population more than that. According to a recent research paper, India has eliminated extreme poverty.”

To this claim we have one rudimentary query: “How is your recent decision to offer free rations for more than 80 crore people for the next five years, proof of India having successfully eradicated poverty?

“With this decision have you not effectively accepted that 800+ million people will not be able to earn enough so as to buy food items for the next five years?”

On minorities

Modi was asked about “religious minorities who complain of discrimination.”

He replied: “These are usual tropes of some people who don’t bother to meet people outside their bubbles. Even India’s minorities don’t buy this narrative anymore. Minorities from all religions, be it Muslim, Christians, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain or even a micro-minority like Parsis are living happily and thriving in India.”

Just a small question at this point will suffice: “If this was indeed the truth why are religious minorities so insecure and why do we have so many incidents of violence against them by vigilante groups against whom no action is taken? Why do leaders from your ideological fraternity speak so threateningly against religious minorities? And finally, why does the Sangh Parivar periodically term every citizen as Hindus?”

In the course of the interview, could Modi have avoided to gloat over the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill and the situation with China?

He does say that his government “passed the pathbreaking legislation to provide 33 percent reservation for women in our Parliament and State legislatures”. But, what is the purpose of passing the law if the implementation date remains unknown?

On the India-China border dispute

On China, to his assertion that he believed that Indian and China “need to urgently address the prolonged situation on our borders so that the abnormality in our bilateral interactions can be put behind us,” we would merely ask him the “status regarding Chinese control over Indian land or claimed Indian land and if he can do anything to get it vacated?”

We would also ask Modi, his views on the current agitation in Ladakh which is led by Sonam Wangchuk.

On the significance of the temple at Ram Mandir, which Modi dedicated himself

Modi also spoke about the consecration ceremony in Ayodhya on January 22. His reply established his centrality in the events. It was “I made a pilgrimage to the places that carry the footprints of Shri Ram. My journey that took me to various corners of the country showed the revered place Shri Ram holds within each of us.”

Not that we hold any brief for the divisive agitation for the Ram temple. But, Modi played no role in it and his various enactments at multiple events from August 2020 onwards, were to establish himself as the person who ‘delivered’ the temple. 

So our question on this last point would be simple: “Why was no religious saint/priest asked to perform the ceremony, why did you not ask the temple trust that there were other people in the country, within the Hindu community, who were more qualified theologically to perform the ritual?

“Is it because, with your participation, you wished to establish the event as a political act, an act of stamping Hindu assertion on the site of the Babri Masjid and this was one opportunity you did not wish to forego?

“Was your decision prompted by your quest for permanence in history?”

There were other additional questions we would have liked to ask, especially on his claim of being “god-gifted”, but will rest our case at this point for reasons of space.

This article was first published on The Wire on April 12, 2024.

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