Over the weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly became even more visible on Indian television screens by making appearances on not one but two different new channels for hour-long interviews. Days before he heads off to Davos for the World Economic Forum and with the last full budget of his five-year tenure expected in 10 days, Modi spoke about a number of issues from simultaneous elections to how he would rather not say anything about the Supreme Court crisis.
The anchors who interviewed him are, on a nightly basis, loud, feisty hosts of primetime debates, always happy to interrupt a guest in order to make a point. But both TimesNow and Zee News happen to reflect a worldview that more or less matches with whatever the Bharatiya Janata Party considers its opinion at any given time. And so over the interviews on Saturday and Sunday, the classic pugilism of primetime gave way to questions about how Modi manages to make friends so easily and where he gets his energy from.
Both of those were from Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary. TimesNow was a little more direct but still mostly just nudged Modi towards his talking points – at one point anchor Navika Kumar simply said “employment and farmers” before the prime minister answered. Kumar did manage to ask one truly shocking question, asking Modi what he thinks about some leaders going abroad and telling the diaspora that things are not well in India – forgetting or ignoring the fact that Modi did the same early on in his tenure.
Overall, the interviews did not do much other than get the prime minister some comfortable prime time slots that were uncharacteristically tepid, with little in the way of newsworthy points being made. For the entire TimesNow interview, go here, and to watch the Zee News interview, see this.
Below, a selection of tough questions from the two interviews, where the answers were predictable enough that we have not included them:
Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary
- “Between when you became prime minister in 2014, and now in 2018, do you see some difference in India’s status when you go to international summits?”
- “We have seen that before this, in summits like like Davos or SAARC or G20, it seemed like a diplomatic exercise. Our neta went, did a diplomatic exercise and a photo was taken. When we take you, and this is something your critics don’t like, it seems like friendship. You hug them, put your hand on their shoulder and talk, then that photo is printed. Based on that people attack you also, but that is your style that you immediately make friends. Take Netanyahu, the friendship between you was like we were watching a film in which two friends have a pukka friendship. So your unique style of diplomacy, how do you connect so quickly with a person who is not from this country, who doesn’t speak your language, who probably has not known you for too long?”
- “After you came to power, a new tradition started that GDP growth rate, how it’s moving. I remember that before that, three-four years ago, the people didn’t even know what the GDP growth rate was. Now people follow it like the Sensex, every three months seeing how much it’s gone up and down. And based on that every three months you are questioned. And if it is not as much as you promised, then the attacks start. Isn’t this a new sort of tradition?”
- “I was doing a lot of research while preparing for this interview, and I was thinking about this new world order, what is the new world order? So I found a new thing, which is referred to as PTM – Putin Trump Modi. This is the New World Order?”
- “Do you have as much enthusiasm today as you did in 2014? It’s now 2018, sometimes people lose their enthusiasm while working?”
- “Do you think you’re on the right track?”
- “You live like a fakir, call yourself a fakir and your family is also large, 1.25 crore people. You don’t take leave, and I’ve heard that when you go abroad you travel at night so you don’t have to stop on the way, you sleep on the plane itself. At this age, how do you have so much energy? Because at this age anyone else can’t even imagine it. Today your energy is such that a young Indian would be ashamed.”
TimesNow’s Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar
- “Prime Minister ji how would you look back on the three and a half years of your term in office. So much has happened. What all have you achieved and how much is left.”
- “You are the first prime minister of this country, in 20 years, who will be going to Davos and you will be addressing the plenary. No prime minister has done this before, nobody has addressed the plenary. Last year, China had addressed the plenary and this year you will be addressing the plenary and your tour begins in two days; which part of India’s growth story will you be presenting in Davos?”
- “From 1991 until now, no prime minister of our country has got this opportunity to occupy the stage, why has this happened?”
- “You are absolutely right Mr Prime Minister. Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to remind you that in October 2017, IMF chief Christine Laggard had said that ‘we have slightly downgraded India but we believe that India is for the medium and long-term on a growth track that is much more solid as a result of structural reforms that have been conducted in the last couple of years’. If world economic institutions like IMF and World Bank are convinced about demonetisation and GST, then why is our domestic constituency not convinced with demonetisation and GST?”
- “Prime Minister, you have been trying to improve India’s image abroad, but some of our leaders go abroad and tell the Indian diaspora that things are not working well in India. They urge Indians abroad to return home because everything is getting worse. What will you say to those people?”
- “Mr Modi, a Modi doctrine has emerged, and the Modi doctrine was endorsed by your good friend Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in India recently and had a great trip to Delhi. He endorsed your attitude towards terror. In an interview to Times Now, he said your attitude towards terror is that of a hard power nation. He endorsed the Modi doctrine and the hard power, he said that terrorism cannot be tackled with soft power. Will you continue with this strong stand?”