Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Telescope: A battle on two fronts

Along with demonetisation, PM’s absence from Parliament is now an issue.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai |
November 24, 2016 12:05:47 am
demonetisation, currency ban, narendra modi, pm modi, parliament winter session, winter session parliament, congress on demonetisation, india news, indian express PM Narendra Modi

The prime minister announced demonetisation in a special television broadcast on November 8; on November 13, he was in tears during a speech in Goa, asking his countrymen to wait 50 days to assess the move; on November 20 in Agra, he attacked those who criticised him — primarily opposition parties — saying their source of funds has been hit by the move. And on November 22, he told BJP MPs demonetisation was for the poor.

PM Modi has spoken in the public and to the public but not in Parliament thus far. This has helped Opposition unity, allowed Rahul Gandhi to question the PM’s absence even though he can speak on TV and appear via video at a concert (Coldplay’s in Mumbai). It has given a focus to the Opposition’s attacks and maximum media coverage of their protests over demonetisation.

Quite a TV spectacle: One man — and it’s all about the PM — standing up against “kaala dhan”(read “the rich and corrupt”), for the poor, challenged by a behemoth Opposition demanding his head — or at least his voice. Not exactly David and Goliath but a grand battle of imagery and perception, a la Donald Trump.

Modi’s oratory skills are unparalleled amongst politicians; if he spoke in Parliament, he would answer his critics and dispel the impression that he disrespects the elected representatives of the people

So why doesn’t he? Evidence suggests he prefers to address the public directly — at rallies, meetings which are televised, or through social media — in personalised political messages imbued with emotional capital. It works for him; but it has allowed the Opposition to attack him on demonetisation as well as his silence in Parliament — in battle, is it wise to open up two fronts?

Arvind Kejriwal fights on all fronts. He too addresses the public directly at rallies and through social media but he also holds press conferences, and gives interviews. Sometimes, he might wish he hadn’t. In his latest Facebook interview with BBC Hindi, he was unusually belligerent and rude using the word “neech”for reporter Nitin Srivastava and the BBC. He may like to consider whether such combative behaviour stands him in good stead all of the time.

The most aggressive combatant on television is no more — on TV. For now. Arnab Goswami has left Times Now and The Newshour as you might have noticed. Depending on your point of view, this could be good or bad. Goswami had made The Newshour the most watched and talked about news show on television, albeit the damage it has done to good journalism.

Will this be a big blow for Times Now? News channels tend to live in the reflected glory of anchors who give the brand a USP, so the loss could be acute. However, when an anchor loses/forsakes his successful platform, he has to start afresh but with an established identity. Could be a problem. Indubitably, the nation wants to see how Times Now and Goswami fare without each other.

Sonia Gandhi’s interview with Rajdeep Sardesai was a coup for the latter. Unlike Modi, Kejriwal and Goswami, Mrs Gandhi was soft-spoken, subdued but firm. Lost count of the number of times she said “absolutely not”. Touted as her first TV interview in nine years, Mrs Gandhi appeared pale, somewhat frail but articulate, fluent and forceful. She refused to answer political questions related to Rahul Gandhi — Sardesai explained that it had been agreed the interview would be about Mrs Indira Gandhi, in this, her centenary year — although she did refute any comparison between Indira ji and Narendra bhai, and insisted the Congress would “come up” from 44 seats in the next elections.

A soft interview for the Congress president in such politically charged times but with nuggets here and there: She believed Indira Gandhi was not terribly interested in joining politics; that she had discussed the possibility of her assassination, she had given “instructions” and “spoken to Rahul in particular” about it, how the two ladies spoke in French the first time they had met in 1965, and a hint that Sonia G may one day write her memoirs.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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