Hallelujah praise the Lord! For once I agree with every thought the Prime Minister has expressed. He’s literally taken the words out of my mouth. In fact, I couldn’t have put it better myself.
In an interview to Network18 the Prime Minister spoke of the need for media criticism of the government — “Mera yeh spasht mat hai ki sarkaron ki, sarkar ke kaam-kaaj ka, kathor se kathor analysis hona chahiye, criticism hona chahiye. Warna loktantra chal hi nahi sakta hai” (My clear opinion is that there should be the strictest possible analysis of the government and the work done by it. Otherwise, democracy cannot run).
In fact, Mr Modi went one critical step further. He defined clearly the outcome if the media ceased or failed to be critical — “Sarkaron mein jo sudharna chahiye, jo ek dar paida hona chahiye, wah dar bhi nikal jata hai. Aur yeh dar agar sarkaron mein se nikal jayega tho desh ka nuksan bahut hoga. Isliye main tho chahta hoon ki media bahut hi critical ho” (Whatever improvement needs to be brought about in governance and the fear that needs to be created, that fear goes. And if the fear goes, it will be a big loss for the country. That’s why I want the media to be very critical).
The question is: Do Mr Modi and his ministers practise what the Prime Minister has so perfectly preached? I don’t wish to recall the fact he walked out of an interview in 2007, when he was chief minister of Gujarat. That’s history. It deserves to be forgotten and I have put it behind me. But what about today?
With one solitary and honourable exception, Mr Modi’s ministers seem to have stopped giving interviews. His party’s spokespersons have stopped appearing on my programmes. One of them was good enough to admit they have been asked not to. “The party doesn’t like your questions and your attitude”, was his explanation.
At least one senior minister has confirmed there’s a problem. He offered to look into the matter and get it resolved. Four months have passed but he hasn’t got back. I don’t suppose he will.
A few months ago a BJP general secretary gave me an interview and, when I thanked him, laughed and said his colleagues wouldn’t thank him. They would be upset he’d spoken to me! Perhaps this is why several ministers have agreed to interviews and, on occasion, even fixed dates, only to postpone and never reschedule. One was frank enough to say that if his seniors don’t give interviews how could he.
To be honest, I don’t think my experience is unusual though the boycott may be more prolonged and more comprehensive. The common experience of most journalists is this government doesn’t encourage questioning. It certainly doesn’t welcome criticism. And, when it’s criticised, it doesn’t take it on the chin.
So, now, you know why I’m delighted by what Mr Modi has said. The only worrying thought, niggling at the back of my mind, is that this is the sort of thing politicians always say. It sounds right. Indeed, the Prime Minister could hardly have said the opposite.
However, having spoken and so forcefully, the onus is on Mr Modi — and his ministers — to live up to these sentiments. The Prime Minister can hardly welcome and encourage the harshest of criticism if his ministers continue to scuttle and run for cover each time a journalist asks an awkward question or presents an unwelcome fact. Mr Modi has made a loud and public claim and, now, he and his ministers have to live up to it.
So, are things about to change? Perhaps the countless letters I’ve written to innumerable ministers, which have so far gone unanswered, will receive a positive response. I wait to find out. My fingers are crossed but I can’t say I’m confident of getting the long-awaited ‘yes’.
The views expressed are personal