The US president Donald Trump and the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Monday did not allow journalists to ask questions post their joint statements.
Breaking away from the past practices, Trump simply wound up the press meet soon after both leaders had finished their speeches.
Although, as reported by the NDTV, the US and India had changed their earlier stand of no questions allowed – instead, after a joint statement is issued on their meeting, each leader was expected to take one question selected in advance.
The Hindu too had reported that both leaders will only read out a brief statement each after the one-on-one, but the they would not take question from the media. The official, according to the paper, indicated that this was done at India’s behest.
Some in the US media too expressed shock at two leaders not welcoming questions.
This came as a sharp contrast to the established protocol followed by Trump’s predecessors including Barack Obama for the White House dinner hosted for the visiting head of the state.
President Obama hosted the Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in 2009, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping in 2015. Obama also played host to heads of state from Mexico in 2010, China, Germany and South Korea in 2011, Great Britain in 2012, France in 2014, Japan in 2015, Canada, Singapore, Nordic and Italy in 2016.
While hosting every guest the White House’s protocol meant that both the visiting dignitary and the host president addressed the media and took at least one question each from journalists from the US and the country of the visiting guest.
For example, when Singh visited the White House in 2009, both the Indian prime minister and the US president entertained journalists’ questions.
In 2015, Jinping was Obama’s guest at the White House. Despite being known for curbing free speech in China, the Chinese president did not shy away from answering journalists’ questions.
It’s in this context that the decision by Modi and Trump to not allow journalists to ask questions on Monday assumes significance.
Both Trump and Modi bear plenty of common personality traits. Both of them despise media in their respective countries. Modi, for his part, has not held a single press conference since coming to power in 2014 allegedly for the fear of being asked difficult questions. Trump has gone on record to accuse the American media of being fake.
Both, however, have their favourite news outlets, who they don’t mind speaking to. Modi’s selected few one-on-on interviews since becoming the prime minister three years ago have gone to the usual suspects in the Indian media, known for flying the flag for the BJP government.
As for Trump, he has his own favourite in Fox in the US.
A couple of American media outlets had recently slammed the Modi government for curbing freedom of press after the CBI raided the houses of the NDTV owners, Radhika and Prannoy Roy.
Also, the press conference by Modi and Trump was held on the day Muslims across India celebrated black Eid to protest public lynchings of innocent Indians, mostly from minority community, by the supporters of the Indian prime minister.
Whilst Trump has held multiple press conferences by fielding questions from the US media he is not fond of, it’s Modi, who has completely avoided the press interaction in India or abroad. He had agreed to answer a question a member of the British press during his trip to the UK in November 2015.
A journalist from the Guardian newspaper reminded him about the travel ban on him because of his alleged role in the infamous Gujarat genocide. Since the joint press conference of Modi and the then British PM, David Cameron, was being telecast live to by channels to millions of viewers, the question by the British journalist almost eclipsed the entire Modi’s foreign trip.
It seems Modi was not prepared to let the repeat of 2015 ruin his dinner at the White House.