Despite being on the opposite sides of the spectrum, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi share a common trait – of keeping distance from the media. But despite a turbulent relationship with the media, Modi has given a greater number of interviews than Gandhi.
Reporters who covered Modi when he was BJP general secretary in Delhi in the late 90s remember him as an accessible leader, but one who was sceptical of the English media.
"He saw journalists as driven by an agenda, and felt most of them were close to Congress," said a senior journalist on the party beat.
This scepticism turned to outright hostility after 2002, with Modi feeling that the Delhi-based English press had been unfair to him. In 2007, quizzed by the well-known television anchor Karan Thapar on the riots, Modi walked out of the interview.
He has since then spoken to select journalists, including senior television editors in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly polls in 2012, but avoided responding to questions on 2002.
He is more willing to open up to the foreign press, and gave a controversial interview to Reuters in the middle of 2013. But Modi has often circumvented the media. "Since he did not trust the mainstream media, Modi avoided intermediaries completely, and reached out to the people directly with the most innovative political campaign," said a BJP leader.
New media was used extensively to push the party’s message, with Modi using Twitter, Facebook, and blogs extensively. BJP’s IT cell members live-tweeted his events and rallies. From early 2012, news channels began beaming his rallies live with the Modi team – in many cases – providing the footage directly.
"He is now at a stage where he thinks that the media needs him more than he needs the media," said the BJP leader. Media observers however pointed out that other BJP leaders did have their networks in the media, which have been used to push the Modi campaign.