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Why can’t Modi speak a little bit more to Indian journalists? By Karan Thapar

Superfast Primetime Ultimate Nation by Adam Roberts reveals that he had multiple interviews with Narendra Modi. If Modi can speak so often, on so many subjects and frequently engagingly, to Roberts, why can’t he speak just a little bit more to Indian journalists?

columns Updated: Jul 23, 2017 23:02 IST
Narendra Modi,China,Barack Obama
Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to mediapersons after casting his vote for the presidential election in New Delhi,(AP)

Some journalists have all the luck! Adam Roberts, the former South Asia bureau chief of The Economist, reveals in his recent book Superfast Primetime Ultimate Nation that he had multiple interviews with Narendra Modi during the five years he spent in India. Some were recorded when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat but several after he became prime minister, including one the night before Modi left for his much-anticipated China visit. Along with Roberts’ other research, the book presents fresh insights into the PM’s childhood, interests, views and politics.

Quoting Modi’s childhood friends, Roberts says the young Narendra played kho kho and swam in a nearby lake. He also enjoyed cooking and theatre and won prizes for acting. But one his friends, Dasharathbhai Patel adds: “Modi would always be the Captain … we were his underlings.”

Kamuben Modi, a next door neighbour in those early days, says the Modi family “had no attic, no proper roof, just a tin roof.” Of Modi himself she says: “I remember he would never get beaten by other children, he would beat the others.” She adds: “He did not work, not regularly on the tea stall. The mother wanted him to help, but he didn’t.”

In his interviews, Modi reveals a fascination with America, a country Roberts says he visited multiple times as a young man. On one occasion “he joined a ‘young diplomat’ course for a month”. Many visits were done like a backpacker. “You could buy a ticket for $500 that lasted a month and allowed you to take as many trips as you like….” Modi explained. “I used to book long journeys to travel at night, so I could sleep on the plane and avoid the cost of hotels … I travelled and travelled, I explored America. I visited 29 states.”

Roberts reveals that Modi and Obama “exchanged anecdotes about standing outside the White House, neither dreaming that each would find his way inside.”

China is another country Modi has visited often. Roberts says he “spoke of his affection for China.” Of his first visit, Modi said: “That was a spiritual journey which will leave an indelible mark on not only this life but also on my next.”

Not surprisingly, Modi is less fulsome about Pakistan. But in the summer of 2015 he told Roberts: “I keep trying to find new pathways, new avenues, to reach out to Pakistan.”

Modi is particularly proud of his government’s economic achievements: “Look at any aspect of economic growth, we have taken so many steps, all vigorously implemented … we have reclaimed the position of “‘I’ in the BRICS, in terms of being an engine of economic growth.” However, Roberts adds all this “must be taken with a deep slurp of salty lime juice”.

Finally, Roberts has got a response from the PM to the criticism he’s silent on so many worrying issues: “I do speak quite a lot on these issues. Maybe not in the exact words that people want to hear it in, but I am absolutely committed to the integrity of the country, to the harmonious relations in society”. Once again, Roberts own comment is telling: “it is extremely rare to hear the Prime Minister speak up for freedom of expression or support diversity of opinion.”

Now, if Modi can speak so often, on so many subjects and frequently engagingly, to the lucky Roberts, why can’t he speak just a little bit more to Indian journalists?

The views expressed are personal.

First Published: Jul 23, 2017 07:42 IST