modi watch

The 10 interesting bits from Arnab Goswami's tame interview of Narendra Modi

The prime minister thinks his Pakistan policy has been successful, and tells Arnab what he is truly scared of.

Arnab Goswami, chief of TimesNow, is well known for his combative anchoring skills that frequently descend into chaos on his nightly show, the Newshour. On Monday, viewers got to see a slightly different side of the normally feisty anchor in the first interview Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given to a private Indian news channel.

The trademark wagging finger and raised voice from Goswami was replaced by a quiet tone and even compliments for his interview subject, prompting some reaction from twitter.

Modi has given interviews before, to Indian organisations like ANI and Dainik Jagran, as well as international publications like Time and CNN. And unlike his predecessor, Modi speaks a lot and gets plenty of airtime, so an interview is less of an event. But Goswami's formidable reputation for being a merciless interviewer (save for the occasional Arun Jaitley conversation) raised hopes that this Modi interview might be a little different.

Those hopes were dashed pretty quickly when, early on in the interview, Goswami complimented the prime minister for a "fantastic speech" to the US Congress, going on to add that it was "full of humour". The tone never really developed any further from there.

Nevertheless, it was still an 85-minute interview with the country's prime minister, and there were interesting bits. For those who haven't got the time to go through the entire transcript or watch the interview, Scroll has picked out the 10 most pertinent bits.

1. Narendra Modi still has a penchant for hyperbole.

When asked about how much of his objectives his government has achieved, 40% into his tenure:

"We should remember those days when the country was engulfed in disappointment... The entire system was engulfed in disappointment. The big challenge was to inject new trust into the system and create confidence among the citizens. It is very difficult to evaluate this from the outside but I have gone through it. But today I can say with a lot of satisfaction that now there is no trace of any disappointment."

2. Narendra Modi still talks about himself in the third person

And finally, the prime minister has an answer for those who ask why he flies out of the country so much.

"The world didn't know me. The world wants to know who the head of the state is. If someone would want to know Modi through the eyes of the media, then he would be disillusioned on which Modi is the real Modi. If this happens, the country will be at a loss. Modi's personality shouldn't be a hindrance for the world to have faith in India. But for that unless I meet all those leaders and engage them them one to one, unless I speak to them frankly, they wouldn't know about india's head of state, so it was very important for me as I am not from a political family. I never had the opportunity to meet the world leaders earlier." 

3. Narendra Modi actually can praise previous governments, but only so much.

When asked whether we are close to membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which India was kept out of because of Chinese obstruction last week.


"Look the first thing is that India has been continuously making these efforts, no matter which government was in office. Be it the membership of the UN Security Council or the SCO membership or MTCR membership or NSG membership. Every government has made an effort. It's not that only this government is trying, it's in continuity. But it's during our tenure that we achieved SCO membership, we also got the MTCR membership. I have full faith that now we have begun a coordinated effort for the NSG membership too."

4. The prime minister acknowledges that not every country is going to agree with India.

When he came into power, it seemed as Modi was promising that the world would back him on just about everything. Modiji has a bromance with Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, see? After last week's disappointment, however, Modi has a more sober appraisal.

"The most important thing is that we can speak to China eye-to-eye and put forth India's interests in the most unambiguous manner. We are a government that takes care of India's interests. We don't compromise on this. Three days ago I met the Chinese President. I told him clearly about India's interests. They are a different country, we are a different country.
...

The foreign policy is not about changing mindsets. Foreign policy is about finding the common meeting points. Where do our interests converge and how much? We have to sit and talk with every country. It's our ongoing effort." 

5. There is something that Narendra Modi is scared of.

Making jokes. He's afraid of making jokes.

"In this era of 24/7 news channels, anybody can lift a small word and make a big issue out of it. But I will tell you the truth, the reason for the absence of humour in public life is this fear. I am myself scared . Earlier when I used to make speeches, I would make it so humorous but there would never be any issues."
...
"I am not conscious. I am in fear, there is no humour left in public life because of this fear. Everyone is scared. I am in fear."

6. The prime minister thinks his Pakistan policy has been successful.

At least the world now believes that India has a terror problem, which apparently it didn't before.

"There is an outcome due to my continuous efforts like my visit to Lahore and my invitation to the Pakistani Prime Minister to come to India. Now I don't have to explain to the world about India's position. The world is unanimously appreciating India's position. And the world is seeing that Pakistan is finding it difficult to respond. If we had become an obstacle, then we would have had to explain to the world that we are not that obstacle.

Now we don't have to explain to the world. The world knows our intentions. Like on the issue of terrorism, the world never bought India's theory on terrorism. They would sometime dismiss it by saying that it's your law and order problem. Today the world has to accept what India has been saying about terrorism." 

7. Narendra Modi doesn't question Raghuram Rajan's patriotism.

The Reserve Bank of India governor may have had to endure an ugly period where he was called not "mentally fully Indian" by a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament, but after all the dust has settled and Rajan has resigned, Modi is happy to endorse his Indianness.

"As much as I know Raghuram Rajan, whatever post he holds, wherever he is, he is someone who will continue to serve the country. He is someone who loves his country. Therefore, it's not like the nation won't get Raghuram Rajan's services, Raghuram Rajan is not that kind of a person. He is a person who loves the country. Those who speak such language are doing great injustice to him. My experience with him has been good.I appreciate the work he has done. And my good wishes will always be with him."

8. Narendra Modi has a clear message for people – except not clear enough to name these people.

This way even Subramanian Swamy has some deniability because, who's to say Modi is actually talking about him?

"Whether it is someone from my party or not, I believe that such things are inappropriate. The nation won't benefit from such publicity stunts. One should be more responsible while conducting themselves. Anyone who believes he is bigger than the system is wrong.

I have a very clear message. I have no two minds about it."

9. The prime minister expects more from the Congress

Even though the BJP was in power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi suggested it made for a bad Opposition because it was not experienced at ruling the country. It is because the Congress has been in power so long, Modi said, that he expects more from it.

"There is a difference between every Opposition party. 'We have run the government for 60 years and now we are in the Opposition, so we know the nitty-gritties of the government, we know the responsibilities. We can't behave in the way, a new Opposition party behaves.' A party which hasn't been in power or hasn't seen anything, could behave in this way. For example, we are in power now, and consider in 2040 we become the Opposition party. So, in 2040 we can't have the same conduct as the one we had in 2009 or 2010.

That's why I say that, those who have been in power for so many years, shouldn't be doing this. If there is a new party in the Opposition, they have a small demand for their state or if an MP has a demand for his/her constituency and does something like this, then we can understand. Ones who have been in power for very long, shouldn't be doing such things."

10. Narendra Modi has the same old answer for the communal elements in his party.

It's never the BJP's fault. It's always the media's fault.

"Firstly, I am of the firm belief that the nation should progress on the issue of development. And it is necessary that the country moves forward on the issue of development. I would like to tell the media not to make heroes out of those people who make such comments.

Don't make them heroes, they will stop.

But why do you make them so big? I see such statements by people on TV, whose faces I haven't even seen and they end up becoming spokesmen on TV."

And just in case 10 was not enough for you, here's one more that might give you a chuckle or two.

11. Narendra Modi thinks he is an apolitical prime minister.

This from a politician who has criticised the Opposition even when he is attending international events abroad.

"Those who have seen me in Gujarat, and those who have seen me in the last two years, those who see me without any bias, they will know that I am an apolitical Prime Minister. Apart from elections, I don't get involved into politics ever. You can call elections a necessity, a restraint or a responsibility, we have to do it. I attend many functions, go to different areas, you wouldn't have heard any political comment from me."

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