It has been almost nine years since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, but in these nine years he has hardly addressed the media or attended press conferences. He goes to his favorite lap anchors and answers that mutually pre-decided questions, which has nothing to do with nationalism or policymaking. The lap anchors are warned not to ask any question that will embrace the PM of India.
To hold a press conference, especially in front of honest or bold journalists, requires serious guts, and in simple, plain words, a BJP leader lacks on this front. PM Modi doesn’t want to take the risk of answering the questions of the media in general. Though he is a great speaker, he doesn’t want to dilute his image as a strong PM by facing genuine press conferences because a couple of hard-hitting questions are enough to cause him damage. The Prime Minister should come out in the open and answer the questions of the journalists, but that is just a fictional scenario considering the current mess in India.
One journalist was fortunate enough to ask a hard-hitting question to Modi, but soon after that awkward moment, the BJP IT cell randomly attacked the journalist, calling her Pakistani. Sabrina Siddiqui, the journalist from the United States who questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi on ‘discrimination against minorities in India’ during his visit to the US, was trolled and abused by the BJP’s right-wing social media users. The online attack on Siddiqui, highlighting her Muslim inheritance and connections to Pakistan by giving the impression of having a parent from that country, was led by the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s information cell, Amit Malviya. Malviya referred to Sabrina’s question as “motivated” on Twitter and claimed that Modi gave her a “fitting answer,” which he claimed was a “blow” to the “toolkit gang”—a derisive term used by the head of the ruling party’s IT cell to refer to those who have questioned the BJP and the prime minister on various topics.
At the press conference in the White House, Sidduqe asked Modi, “India has long prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, but there are many human rights groups who say that your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics. As you stand here in the East Room of the White House, where so many world leaders have made commitments to protecting democracy, what steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?”
In an unusual occurrence, PM Modi answered questions during a joint press conference on June 22 with US President Joe Biden at the White House since he took over India in 2014. It was a rare moment in Modi’s tenure as prime minister when a journalist could pose a question to him, let alone on alleged human rights violations of minorities in India. Modi, in response, expressed “surprise” that people thought minorities during his regime were being discriminated against. “Democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs in our veins. We live in a democracy. Our government has taken the basic principles of democracy and proven that democracy can deliver. And when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, or gender. There is absolutely no space for discrimination.”
“What steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?” asked Siddiqui. Responding to a question, PM Modi strongly defended India’s record on democracy and his government’s performance and human rights, saying that the basic foundation stone of his government has been ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, and Sabka Prayas, which means together for everyone’s growth with everyone’s trust. “We are a democracy. India and America both have democracy in their DNA. Democracy is in our spirit; we live it, and it’s written in our Constitution. So no question of discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed, or religion arises. That is why India believes in sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, and sabka prayas and walks ahead with them. These are our foundation principles, which are the basis of how we operate and live our lives in India. The benefits that are provided by the government are accessible to all; whoever deserves those benefits is available to everybody” . Following his election as prime minister in 2014, PM Modi has not addressed the media in a single press conference. He showed up for a press conference in May 2019 but did not take any questions.
Sabrina Siddiqui is one of the most high-profile Muslim American journalists. She is a White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Washington, D.C., where she covers the Biden presidency. She also covered the White House and the 2016 presidential election while working at the Guardian before 2019. Siddiqui is a graduate of Northwestern University and lives in Washington with her husband. Her father is proud of India, and on many occasions she was seen supporting and cheering for India. Whatever it is, asking sensible questions is her job, and the BJP IT cell should understand the duties of journalists. By attacking Sabrina Siddiqui, we are exposing how much we care for democratic rights.
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