BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi has cancelled a scheduled interview, billed as his big public interaction using the reach of the new media. He was to confront direct questions from the public in the interaction scheduled to be held on Facebook.
The reasons for the cancellation were unclear, but sources said Modi did not want to be clubbed with other leaders who would follow him as guests in the series.
In a statement, Facebook said, "We are disappointed to announce that Narendra Modi has decided to cancel his participation in Candidates 2014 on Facebook Talks live. We apologise to the Facebook community and those who submitted questions." The series would now begin with Arvind Kejriwal on March 4.
Facebook has tied up with Newslaundry, a media website, for the programme. Explaining the concept, Newslaundry's Madhu Trehan, who will anchor the series, said, "It is a town-hall format where people can ask questions of political leaders who could play a role in the formation of the next government." She added that they had approached NDTV to be the channel partner, and the broadcaster agreed.
The show was supposed to kick off with the Modi interview on March 3. When asked about the cancellation, a BJP leader, who did not wish to be named, said one reason could be being 'clubbed with other leaders'. "Why should he be a part of a series that is to have (Arvind) Kejriwal, Mamata (Banerjee) and others who are not in the same league?"
In a commentary on news website Niti Central, the site's chief digital officer Shashi Sekhar wrote that Facebook and Newslaundry should 'introspect'. He argued that they had erred in announcing the series as being about PM contenders when Modi was the only declared PM candidate, and in 'establishing parity' between Modi and 'upstarts such as Kejriwal and convicts out on bail such as Lalu Yadav'. Shekhar also noted that a third reason was the 'media partnership'. It is understood that the Modi camp is cold to NDTV.
When asked if Modi was aware of the format, Trehan told HT, "Everything was confirmed and scheduled for March 3 for well over a month. Invites were sent and all attendance confirmed. Promos have been running since February 19 and the Facebook page has been up inviting questions from users for as long. Thousands of questions have come in."
She added that just two days before the interaction, Modi 'laid down some conditions which we cannot fulfill'. When asked what those conditions were, Trehan replied, "Mr Modi has decided to cancel. He is best placed to state the reason."