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Modi can’t speak? Tech glitch during WEF speech triggers bogey of ‘teleprompter PM’

A few seconds into his WEF address Monday, PM Modi could be seen pausing before looking to his left. He eventually had to restart his speech after a near 2-minute interruption.

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New Delhi: Was it a technical glitch or a teleprompter failure? That is the question Narendra Modi’s critics and supporters are fighting over after the prime minister was forced to restart his virtual address at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Davos agenda.

A few seconds into his WEF address Monday, the PM could be seen pausing before looking to his left. He then plugged in his earphones before checking with WEF Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab if he was audible. After Schwab responded in the affirmative, the PM restarted his address.

The interruption lasted a little under two minutes.

Just after the incident, Modi’s critics in the Opposition alleged that he ran out of words as his teleprompter failed, alluding to past criticism from leaders like Rahul Gandhi that Modi can’t speak if he isn’t fed words on a teleprompter.

With the hashtag ‘#TeleprompterPM’, the official Twitter handle of the Congress party attributed the glitch to a teleprompter issue. Referring to a Bollywood song, it said: “Teleprompter guy: Achha chalta hun, duaon mein yaad rakhna (Alright I’m leaving, keep me in your prayers)”.

Rahul Gandhi himself tweeted that the teleprompter could not bear so many “lies”.

Other Opposition leaders also made the same allegation.

While an official government statement has not been issued yet, official sources said the real issue was poor connectivity and sequencing of events by the WEF.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s official spokesperson Suresh Nakhua blamed WEF technicians for the glitch.

“Don’t those getting excited at the tech glitch not realise that the problem was at WEF’s end? They were not able to patch PM, so requested him to start again, which is evident in the way Klaus Schwab said that he will again give a short introduction and then open up the session,” he wrote.

However, Opposition leaders also pounced on this defence, calling it part of a ‘toolkit’. Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said in a tweet: “Teleprompter + Toolkit = Technological Advancement.”

Also read: Sri Lanka in ‘debt trap’, India’s response shows pushback against China has begun

Sequence of events

As he began his WEF address Monday, PM Modi said: “India offers a bouquet of hope to the world. It includes our trust in democracy; it includes our technology, our temperament and talent…” He then paused suddenly for a few seconds, before throwing down his hands in frustration and asking WEF Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab if he was audible.

“I would suggest that we start the official session now and we will have just one short introduction…” Schwab eventually said, prompting the session to restart.

A person speaking in Hindi could also be heard in the background during the interruption, which lasted about a minute and forty seconds, after which PM Modi continued with his special ‘State of the World’ address. 

According to sources, there was a connection problem on both sides and the PM’s speech began before the audience could be looped in by the organisers of WEF.

The technical aspects of the feed are usually taken care of at the PM’s residence by the Prime Minister’s Office, in coordination with the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, sources added.

In his address, the PM spoke about India’s contribution to the world, including its net-zero target by 2070 to fight climate change and commitment to the ‘One Earth, One Health’ amid the pandemic by providing essential medicines and vaccines to many countries.

WEF event

The WEF’s annual meeting, which has been taking place in Davos for the past 50 years, is being held virtually this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and several waves of the Omicron variant across the world.

The virtual event will continue till 21 January. In 2021 too, the marquee international event was held online.

Other world leaders speaking at this year’s event include Chinese President Xi Jinping, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

With inputs by Nayanima Basu

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Nations must secure global supply chains, prevent inflation shocks: Xi Jinping at WEF


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