Prime Minister Narendra Modi mingled freely with the press and was in festive mode ahead of Gujarat polls.
By Anita Saluja
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept it as an annual feature to meet the journos every Diwali and interact with them. Last Saturday, though ten days after Diwali, he met hundreds of scribes and exchanged pleasantries with them. Clicking selfies with the Prime Minister was the main agenda of the scribes and Modi obliged them whole-heartedly.
There was a time, post-Gujarat-riots in 2002 that the Modi-media relationship was at its lowest ebb. I remember that during those times, if we used to pose queries to him, he refused to open his mouth. So angry was he with the media for blaming him for the riots.
However, before he went to Gujarat as the Chief Minister in 2001, Modi, as BJP General Secretary (Organisation), a post given to an old RSS hand, used to live in a small room at 9, Ashoka Road and often used to chat with mediapersons. Always welcoming them, he used to be curious to know their views, often putting the party issues in perspective and even cracking jokes, to make the conversations lively.
At the Diwali Milan, Modi recalled the good old days when there was no “Bandhan” or “Katinayi” (no difficulty) to meet the mediapersons and there were not too many of them. “Today it is nice to meet you without any paper, pen or camera,” he said, recognizing few of the senior journalists.
In fact, many journos were surprised to see that while mingling with them, he did remember their names and inquired about their health and the newspapers they were writing for. Seeing the Times Now and Republic TV journos, he asked, “Do you people talk to each other?” making them laugh.
When I asked him about BJP prospects in Gujarat, he said, “Param Sukh” that meant “Extreme Happiness.” Of course, the Prime Minister has reasons to feel elated after the pre-poll surveys that projected his party in a comfortable majority. Even otherwise, given the situation when party was looking defensive with Prime Minister Modi visiting Gujarat thrice in October, he could not afford to say that the going was rather tough.
Prime Minister Modi appeared to be cool and relaxed. “Your selfie has not come, right? Click it again,” he told the enthusiastic young journos, who were more curious to take a picture with the Prime Minister than ask him questions.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, I&B Minister Smriti Irani and BJP President Amit Shah were standing by the side and watching Prime Minister Modi enjoying the company of journos. To the Prime Minister, it did not matter whether the journo was the proprietor of India Today, senior journalist of a reputed newspaper, a prominent anchor or a TV cameraman or just an assistant, he shook hands with everyone and reciprocated warmly.
Perhaps, this is the difference between the persons who rise from the bottom to acquire top positions in the party and government and those who are born with a silver spoon. In his address to the scribes before he started mingling with them, he stressed the need to have a debate on the issue. The Prime Minister wanted the scribes to pay attention to the democratic values practiced within the political parties and debate the issue. According to him, development of a true democratic spirit within political parties is necessary not only for the country’s future but also for democracy.
The debate on democracy within parties would obviously benefit the BJP which wants to expose the Congress on dynastic politics, particularly at a time when there is speculation that Rahul Gandhi would be elevated as Congress President. Rahul’s coronation before the Gujarat elections is bound to boost the morale of the moribund party, which recently has come out of the ICU and is showing signs of revival.
By turning the focus on dynastic politics, Prime Minister Modi wants to divert the issue from Development to Dynasty, which obviously would show the Congress in a poor light. At the same podium last year, Modi had asked the Media to initiate the debate on having simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. Ironically, the Election Commission, this time, has broken the past precedence of holding Assembly elections to the State of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls simultaneously.
By raking up the subject of dynasty politics, the BJP feels that the Congress would shy away from elevating Rahul Gandhi, but if it fails to do so this time, he, perhaps, may miss the bus forever. For both Rahul and Modi, Gujarat Assembly elections are crucial. While Rahul has to break the stamp of “Pappu”, labelled by the BJP, Modi, similarly, has to prove that his image is still intact among the masses and is not fading away.
In fact, the BJP was in two minds whether to hold the Diwali Mangal Milan this time or not, but it finally decided to host the event as otherwise it would have send wrong signals.
“We are not defensive. If our aggression makes you think that we are defensive, it is your problem,” remarked BJP President Amit Shah to a senior scribe. However, this year, apart from the media, even the BJP leaders were not in their full elements. Senior leaders like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Power Minister Piyush Goyal were all missing this time. Even those Ministers present like Jitendra Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani hardly spoke on political issues.
Perhaps, Amit Shah was extra cautious that any wrong signal from the ministers would create a problem for the party in the run-up to the crucial Gujarat elections. Before bidding good-bye to the Prime Minister, mediapersons wished him Best of Luck for the Gujarat Polls. This time, however, the numerical strength of the media was far less than the previous years. Who is responsible for this – less number of invitation cards or media reluctance? Only BJP President Amit Shah can provide an answer to this.