In 2007, when Narendra Modi was asked by TV host Karan Thapar about his role in 2002 Gujarat pogrom and he got up and left. “Bas dosti bani rahein,” he had said famously. Let's hope we remain friends.

Since Narendra Modi got an alleged clean chit on 2002 – meaning that the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team controversially declared that there was no evidence to indict him – Modi has given many interviews and answered the 2002 question many times. Hang me if I did something wrong, he has said. One feels bad even if a puppy dies under your car, he explained his feelings about the violence with a very bad metaphor.

In recent weeks he has given a number of interviews, unlike the Gandhi family which seems to be avoiding them. Yet the Modi interviews have come across as fixed. The journalists he's faced didn't seem to ask him the tough questions, or, worse, tried to flatter him. It seemed that Modi would never face Arnab Goswami of Times Now, the toughest of them all.

When Rahul Gandhi gave an interview to Arnab Goswami in January, the Congress scion had planned to have more press interactions. The Arnab interview was such a fiasco, however, the plan was shelved. Goswami asked him the tough questions and Rahul pleaded with him to ask about his plans for women's empowerment. That interview became a source of many unforgettable jokes.

Last night, Narendra Modi faced Arnab Goswami and Goswami was less aggressive in his tone by a few notches. Yet Goswami wasn't as subdued as he was once before Raj Thackeray. Goswami asked all the tough questions. He did not ask Modi about his role in 2002 because his answer to that is by now a script. He asked the one many felt Modi was not being asked: why did he make Mayaben Kodnani a minister in his cabinet in Gujarat in 2007, knowing that there were charges against her for the Naroda Patiya massacre? She was convicted for that massacre in 2012. Modi replied that there were no charges against her when she was made a minister. Do your homework!

Faced with repeated questioning on things like how he would win allies or handle Pakistan, Modi refused to be pinned down. He was a bit bullying towards Goswami but at the same time respectful towards Times Now. His answers were evasive, sometimes convulted (such as the one on his remarks on Bangladeshi Muslim refugees) and it is unlikely that Modi's critics would be convinced. But then there's little that he can say that would convince his critics. For fencesitters, however, Modi said many things that could make them begin to like him. He sounded like a man who had a vision for national development, saying things like the importance of Kolkata has a regional economic hub for the east, and that as a prime minister he would have to take everybody along in national interest, even Times Now.

Even the worst Modi's critics will have to grant him that politically, he has played well, since the day he was announced as the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate. Asked by Goswami about the embarrassing Snoopgate controversy – the Gujarat Police's surveillance of a woman Modi allegedly had or wanted to have an affair with – Modi said what any politician would say: the matter is subjudice, let the Supreme Court decide. Modi might not convince us that he's the best man to be prime minister, but it is a matter of relief that he's at least willing to subject himself to tough questions. Such is the state of affairs that we have to feel grateful when potential prime ministers agree to answer tough questions on TV.