A new game: New year starts with a bang as PM Narendra Modi gives 90-minute interview, says Meghnad Desai

By: | Published: January 6, 2019 4:06 AM

The central issue of the interview was the Prime Minister as he is of the forthcoming election.

Narendra Modi, Narendra Modi interview, NDA allies, NCP, Supreme Court, Shiv Sena, modi ANI interviewA file photo of voters at a village near Ajmer, Rajasthan PTI

The new year started with a bang. A talking Prime Minister taking questions, giving long answers and holding forth for 90 minutes! Those who complained that he does not talk to the media had to find new grounds for criticism: Only one interviewer. Questions no doubt cleared in advance. Too much about Me, My and I.
But then if you ask a Prime Minister about matters of State, he can hardly use third person singular. If Modi had said, “That was not me. That was my Cabinet colleague”, howls of protest would have resulted. The central issue of the interview was the Prime Minister as he is of the forthcoming election. Indeed there has been no other issue occupying the Opposition. So the manner in which Modi responded could hardly be a surprise. By giving interview to ANI, he also ensured that all the channels carried it simultaneously and each carried on analysis for the rest of the evening. A press conference would not have been carried that extensively. If nothing else, the Prime Minister understands how to get TRPs.

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There were surprises. He did unequivocally denounce lynchings. He showed real passion speaking about his worries in the morning after the surgical strikes. But above all, the surprise was that the interview happened at all. It may presage a different approach by the Prime Minister to politics in the next few months. Thus, he knows that he will have to be accommodating to his NDA allies. He cannot do the emollient act but he can be patient, as he is being with the Shiv Sena. This may mean approaches to new allies such as the TRS. It may mean more press encounters. It will mean wrong-footing the Opposition, which has made Modi the sole issue.
A little-noticed signal was issued by the NCP last week. With support from NCP corporators, the BJP won the posts of mayor and deputy mayor in the closely contested Ahmednagar municipal elections. Sharad Pawar has lost neither his guile nor his ability to play power politics. Here again is the great uncertainty as to which side some parties will end up with between the two alliances. By making Modi the issue rather than policy or ideology, the Congress has freed its possible allies from any guilt if they join the NDA. If the issue is personal, who cares one way or another? The sole consideration of small parties led by the Big Beasts will be: What is in it for my party and me? Sharad Pawar is not finished yet.

The interview was also quite categorical about the Temple. The Parivar was told in no uncertain terms that the government will not move until after the Supreme Court verdict. In a not-so-subtle way the Prime Minister told the Congress not to delay the proceedings of the Court. Here is the perfect alibi. If the Supreme Court cannot declare its verdict till after the election date has been announced, the ground is ready for Modi to blame the Congress for thwarting the desires of millions of Hindus. Rahul Gandhi will no doubt counter by promising the Temple if the Congress is voted in power, but then who will the public believe in that issue? Get real. You think you know your Modi. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

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