The Centre’s Narendra Modi government completed three years in office on Friday and, as expected, the government and the ruling party, the BJP, left no stone unturned in making sure that this dominated the headlines of media across the country.
To start with, the newspapers up and down the country carried full page ads highlighting what the government claimed were its achievement in three years of being in office. This, by itself, was a unique exercise given that no government in any developed democracy would indulge in similar extravaganza at the cost of tax-payers’ money just to create a positive vibe about itself.
It was yet another example of this government’s obsession with events, often used to camouflage the uncomfortable realities.
And this is not the first time the Modi government has been accused of splashing government’s money on image-building initiatives. On both the first and second anniversaries, the Modi government faced widespread condemnation for blowing away hundreds of crores of public money on PR exercises.
This became controversial particularly in light of thousands of poor farmers committing suicides due to their inability to pay debts and a large section of India’s population suffering from considerable deprivation.
As the day progressed, the topic of Modi completing three years became the biggest dominating topic of discussions on both traditional and social media platforms.
The BJP President, Amit Shah, addressed an exhaustive press conference in the afternoon, when he also took questions from reporters. As expected, almost every news channels, Hindi and English both, carried out an uninterrupted broadcast of Shah’s press conference, even at the cost of cancelling their scheduled transmissions.
However, what was astonishingly evident was how the organisers of the event had chosen to mute journalists’ questions.
It was clear that journalists had not been given microphone to ask their questions so that they could not be audible to millions of TV viewers the same way we heard Shah making series of claims on his government’s so-called achievements.
Some intrepid reporters, however, went ahead and dared to ask questions that visibly angered Shah, who did not like being asked about Kashmir and on whether his government had imposed an emergency-like situation in the country.
We could assume that the journalists in question here had asked Shah to explain his stand on these issues because of what the BJP president replied.
In response to a journalist Poornima Joshi’s question, an angry Shah said, “No no, we’ve not imposed the emergency in the country. Don’t compare with Mrs (Indira) Gandhi. We’ve not imposed emergency. We did not gag you guys. How can you compare us with Indira Gandhi?”
On Kashmir, he said that his government was confident of finding a resolution of the current worsening situation.
We know it was Poornima Joshi because a voice ‘on the mic’ diligently kept introducing the reporters before every question.
The question is; why would Shah have wanted the journalists’ questions muted on a day he planned to spell out his government’s achievements. The decision couldn’t have been an oversight. The reason could be that when there’s an unprecedented media spotlight on you, even an uncomfortable questions have potential to become a news.
Who would know it better than Shah himself, who had to face an embarrassment during the Assam assembly election campaign, when a question from a local reporter had left him red-faced.
An embarrassed Shah had then told reporter that “you shouldn’t ask such questions.” But the clip of his verbal exchange with the reporter had gone viral.
This is precisely what happened to PM Modi too when he chose to finally entertain questions from reporters during his trip to 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.
Clearly Shah and his party did not appear to repeat that episode and, therefore, wanted media’s attention solely focussed on what he and his party had to say both on TV and claims made in Friday’s newspapers.
In 2016, when Shah addressed media on the completion of Modi government’s two years in office, journalists’ questions were not muted. (WATCH below)
With preparations for 2019 election already underway, the saffron party does not appear in any mood to allow any adverse publicity to mar its electoral chances in the next Lok Sabha polls.