When PM Modi was reminded about Gujarat riots and asked about intolerant India


Rifat Jawaid

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a quite an eloquent speaker and even his detractors conceded that very few politicians can match the gift of the gab he possesses.

However, Modi, despite having a pedigree of wowing massive crowds at election rallies or diaspora events, has always been accused of detesting two-way communication. That’s precisely why you never see him entertaining an open Q&A with journalists. He doesn’t speak to media, which he suspects may not ask favourable questions.

Karan Thapar tried once but PM Modi, then Gujarat’s CM, went silent because it may have endangered his ‘dosti’ with the celebrated journalist-anchor.

Another journalist from NDTV India tried to follow Thapar’s suit while travelling in Modi’s helicopter during an election rally. Modi went silent once again, but this time not forgetting to teach the poor soul a harsh lesson- the journalist in question was unceremoniously offloaded.

But, you can treat Indian media any which way you like because we are used to being treated with disdain. But problems start when you are on a foreign visit and expected to address a joint press conference. Foreign media, particularly in UK, are known for not giving a toss to their own prime minister, let alone respecting the sensitivity to a visiting dignitary.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who successfully chose to remain silent despite widespread protests over growing religious intolerance, couldn’t afford to do so during his trip to the UK. After holding talks with his British counterpart, David Cameron, both leaders came out to address a joint news conference.

And no prizes for guessing that the first question was about growing religious intolerance in India. Worse for Modi that the journalist who asked this question was from the BBC.

So how did the prime minister respond? Well, good thing was that he didn’t exercise his option of evading the question. But, he did manage to shield himself behind Buddha and Gandhi.

He said, “India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. Every incident is serious for us. India is a vibrant democracy and the law is capable of taking action against those perpetrators.”

Like he always does, this time too he left his answer open for interpretation. Media houses sympathetic to him will no doubt flash headlines suggesting how Modi sounded a tough warning to those loose canons within his party. But the fact remains, he simply dodged the question.

The second question was asked by the left leaning Guardian newspaper’s journalist. No, the journalist did not give him any grief as his question was about the UK’s future outside EU and what PM Modi thought of it. But the ‘cheeky’ fellow, in true Guardian journalist style, did remind him about the travel ban on Modi because of his alleged role in the infamous Gujarat riots.

A visibly unhappy Modi made it a point to comment on that brief  commentary on Gujarat riots by the Guardian journalist before replying to his questions on UK-EU relationship.

He said, “Let me keep the record straight. I had come here in 2003 (after Gujarat riots in 2002). There was no ban on my entry to UK. I couldn’t come here because of my other engagements.”

After tonight’s press conference, one thing is clear; PM Modi is unlikely to entertain any Q&A involving foreign journalists during his trip to the UK.