Just a few months left in his tenure, Narendra Modi has concreted himself as the only Indian Prime Minister to completely keep the Press at a distance. Except for a few media channels who praise him 24/7, he always ran away from the neutral media. PM Modi has made no secret of his scorn for the media and has given carefully designed interviews only to two responsive channels.
The existence of a free, independent and powerful media, which is known as the fourth pillar of the democracy, is under crisis in our country, especially in the highly mixed society like in India. Often it is said that the situation of the journalists in a country showcases how democracy is being practiced in a nation-state. Nonetheless, at present, the fourth estate in the democracy is facing a tough situation in the Narendra Modi era. From Gauri Lankesh to Shujaat Bukhari — the situation is indeed alarming where the country has miserably failed to safeguard the fourth estate. In other words, it can be said that the media houses are earning profits but Press Freedom is shrinking considerably.
PM Modi several times had accused former prime minister Manmohan Singh of remaining silent, but Manmohan Singh spoke on the floor of the Parliament and even to the Press. The opposition in the government (and amongst political thinkers in general) has insinuated a variety of sharply critical reasons; they believe that Modi avoids press conferences as he does not have answers to the questions. Others consider that it is an extension of his authoritarian attitude and his wish to practice it to control what he can.
In a conversation with AV, Author and Speaker Awdhesh Singh expressed, “Media in India is a twin edge sword as it cuts both ways. If PM interacts with the press regularly, they would take a part of his statement out of context and make it a national issue out of it. They are in the habit of starting long debates on a trivial matter when an unknown Maulvi says something in some part of the country. So, you can imagine their energy level!”
While Purnima Mistry, a housewife and a BJP voter stated, “Press might twist what PM intends to speak. There is always a possibility for that to happen, but does that mean he should stop responding to the press entirely? If that is the case, he shouldn’t even have that one interview with Arnab Goswami. The same thing could have happened then as well. If he intended for people to ask honest questions, he would have conducted open conferences so that no individual can throw accusations of having scripted interviews. This at the same time will project to the nation that even a PM is a ‘sevak’ (as he would like to call himself) and indeed equally accountable for his actions.”
On asking why the PM is abstaining from holding a free press conference for all, Congress MLC Bhai Jagtap told AV, “That is the question Congress is asking him right from the first day. If he is the Prime Minister of the largest democracy, how can he simply run away from the Press? The Press is supposed to be the fourth pillar of the democracy and that shows his inability to convey messages. In a democracy, you should have a dialogue with the media and you should tell the country about your plans for the citizens and the nation. For the last four-and-a-half years, he has not done anything for the people and the country. He may not be able to handle media, which may be one of the reasons.”
It has been observed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely known for his long and eccentric speeches during the electoral campaigns. However, despite the crisis that the nation suffered due to the failure of schemes such as GST, Demonetisation, price hike, currency downfall, and many more during his four-and-a-half-year tenure as the PM, Modi has refrained from giving answers that the nation wants to know! While it is believed that a recent step of an interview with News Agency ANI seems to be a pretext with the nearing of the Lok Sabha elections. In a 95-minute interview, the Prime Minister covered a vast range of topics from the state election setbacks to demonetisation, the surgical strikes, and Urjit Patel’s exit as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Chief in December.
Defending the PM’s stand on the same, BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari commented, “This is his style of working. When he was a Chief Minister in Gujarat, he always preferred to talk to people directly and likewise, he communicates with the people of the nation directly. During every ‘Mann Ki Baat’, he invites the people of the nation to pose the questions and he refers to those questions in the program like in a recent interview, he has answered 42 questions and he has not avoided any of them.”
Modi has also discontinued the practice of the Prime Minister having a press advisor who used to be a point person for the media. Before Modi, all Prime Ministers, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had a senior journalist or an official as the press advisor. Now the media has no clue as to whom to call in the PMO. The lack of even a single press conference and the belief that he is above any media scrutiny is a chilling effect that Modi has undoubtedly had on the Indian democracy.
Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul asserted, “For some issues at least, the Prime Minister should hold press conferences. Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and there are so many issues that are prevalent in the country. If not always, but at times, press conferences should be held. Otherwise, it might seem that he is ignoring the media.”
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