Lesson in Obsequiousness in Interview Garb

By Atul Cowshish.

Despite all the claims of its high TRP, there are not many who rate the nightly verbal joust on Times Now high because all you get to hear is shouting and screaming. Perhaps the only reason why the programme enjoys high viewership is that people do like to see the interviewee, if he or she is a big name, being roasted by the interviewer. But then many also find the uncontrolled aggression of the interviewer who does not like to let the guests put across their point of view quite off-putting.

The interview with the prime minister, aired on June 27 (to coincide with the Emergency anniversary?) was bereft of the usual high pitched exchanges, in local parlance known as ‘Tu Tu Main Main’. Instead of the trademark pointed fingers at the interviewee while giving him an overdose of tongue-lashing the interviewer was incredibly reverential towards his subject, consciously avoiding asking any ‘uncomfortable’ question that many would say could have put some life in the soporific interview. Even the Doordarshan would not have been able to do a better job. The Times Now interview would probably form part of a nation-wide publicity blitz and in some states it might even be included in textbooks as an ideal form of interview.

The impression was inescapable that the interview with the prime minister—a coup of sorts, considering the inaccessibility of Narendra Modi to the media—was a stage-managed PR exercise. After a while it appeared that the guest, Modi, wanted the interview to go on and on. The interview ended after about 80 minutes by when the interviewer had exhausted his stock of obsequious list apparently prepared in advance.

Those who expect this particular Times Now show to be explosive and lively might have felt cheated because it quickly began to resemble a show between a fawning teenager talking to a celebrity from the world of glamour. The interviewer was clearly in awe of the guest, something no journalist would like to admit. The overtones of a puff job done at the behest of a PR firm could not have been missed. The running stream of burning flames in the show could well have been replaced with placid holy water.

When you interview the head of the government (Modi described himself as the head of the ‘state’!) who does not believe in two-way communication, one of the first questions you would ask is about the shortcomings and pitfalls in the administration and government policies that have been widely commented upon. If the answers are evasive and too vague or full of generalities the interviewer must try to pin down the interviewee and try to seek a straight answer. In fact, this is what the Times Now show is supposed to be doing on most days. Questions from the interviewer do not have to be preceded by a laudatory certificate from the interviewer. It does not count as a tough interview if it has questions full of praise underlined by uncritical appraisal.

Take a few examples from the Times Now interview with Modi. He was praised sky high (‘fantastic’ speech in the US!) for the way he ran the foreign policy as a result of which India had only now become a world player. There are many who disagree with this view, but never mind. Modi was encouraged to say in response that this achievement was the result of his effort to project himself on the world stage. He told his foreign interlocutors that ‘there was a time when we sat by the sea and counted the waves….. (now is the) time for us to ride the waves and decide on our direction and speed.’ While we must express our gratitude to Modi for guiding the waves, he might also be told that actually the reference to counting of waves has been in vogue in India for a different reason: the uncanny ability of Indians to make illegal money whatever the circumstances!

Modi was happy to note that the interviewer was rattling off the names of the various schemes he had announced for different sections of society. No critical look at any of the schemes and no question asked about the U-turn he had done on certain schemes after denouncing them in strong terms before becoming the prime minister.

The interviewer of Modi has been accused of being a supporter of the ‘nationalists’ which he demonstrated while interviewing JNU student leaders a few weeks ago. But there are many leading public figures in the country who worry about the ‘anti-intellectual’ atmosphere being created in the country. In the two years or so that Modi has been in office men of his own ‘Parivar’, including many ministers and senior BJP leaders, have been accused of minority-bashing and actively working to polarize the society. The unleashed tongue of the BJP member of Rajya Sabha, Subramanian Swamy, is seen as an ominous sign of the beginning of witch-hunting. If all this is a matter of worry, Modi should have been grilled with pointed questions. But he got away with ease as all he said was that ‘irresponsible’ words, spoken for ‘publicity’ should be ignored by the media.

What we would have liked to know was how does Modi propose to discipline the loose-tongued members of his party many of whom his ministerial colleagues. He should have been asked to explain why does he suddenly become silent and refuse to take notice of ‘irresponsible’ statements and provocative acts by his party members. A vague and reluctant denouncement by him hints at his connivance.

It is pointless to remind Modi that he had promised the moon while campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls. Indians may have accepted that the talk of their bank balance becoming richer by 15 lakh may be a ‘jumla’ or catch phrase. He, of course, now calls it an issue that the Opposition raises, as though he had never spoken about it in every poll rally.

For the past two years one of the biggest worries has been sky-rocketing prices of daily items. Modi blames it on two consecutive years of drought and points to the responsibility of the states and that was gladly accepted by the interviewer. He did say, however, that the government has been importing pulses to bring some relief to the people. Where is that relief? For over a year, the price of Tur (Arhar) Dal, for instance has been hovering around Rs 200 a kilo, which is three times the price before he came to power. Modi cannot be allowed to escape by saying that price rise is a ‘routine’ phenomenon because as an Opposition party this has been one of the favourite planks of the BJP to demand ‘dismissal’ of the government. (Syndicate Features)

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