Modi may be a good orator in monologues but he is hilariously bad at any unscripted dialogue.
Clever one-liners, acronyms, exaggerated accusations, stupid jokes and new challenges. We’ve seen it all. Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have spoken a number of times against each other at this point, yet never directly debated each other.
Recently, Rahul Gandhi challenged PM Modi to a 15-minute debate with him before the Karnataka elections.
You might think it would be child’s play for Modi to accept this debate challenge. But no. Instead of accepting, Modi responded with an ‘I-am-just-too-cool’ statement.
“I’m kaamdaar, he is naamdaar. How can I debate him?” Modi quipped. “Instead, I challenge Rahul Gandhi to speak about the achievements of the Karnataka government for 15 minutes.”
With this, the issue of a debate was deflected once again, and his supporters mocked Rahul for days, till it faded from people’s memory.
But imagine the spectre of India’s most popular orator debating a politician who is popularly mocked as ‘Pappu’. India’s popular ‘tea seller-turned-Prime Minister’, who has four years of his governance to show off, debating a politician who has 60 years’ worth of dynasty baggage. Surely, it has the potential to bring impressive vote shifts towards the BJP in the Karnataka elections if Modi thrashes Rahul Gandhi in a debate? That would be a dream for his supporters.
It sounds all too easy, yet it is not happening. What is it that stops these two politicians from directly engaging one-on-one with each other on a public platform?
Let us get a reality check here.
Modi may be a good orator in monologues, but he is hilariously bad at any unscripted dialogue. ‘Real’ interviews already pose an unconquerable challenge for him, so much so that doing debates is absolutely unthinkable. And he is clever enough to realise that himself. The infamous Karan Thapar interview was enough to make him cry for water within five minutes. Another time, he spent a whole helicopter ride on maun vrat after a reporter asked him an uncomfortable question. These two instances were enough to make him realise that dialogues are too risky for PR and image-building. Especially, if you are bad at them. Since then, he hasn’t looked back, and is always extra careful about not making the same mistakes again.
There has probably not been a single unscripted dialogue spoken by Modi since becoming Prime Minister. Instead, thousands of crores have been spent on his image-building exercises. The beauty of PR is that it can convince you that an average club-level batsman is actually the next Virat Kohli. It can fool the spectators till the time someone points a finger and calls the bluff. For this to happen, the pointed finger has to be raised in the frame that shows the average batsman in action. That is how people will see the real picture. Otherwise, it’s just two separate pictures: one of a pointed finger, the other of Virat Kohli.
What Modi is doing by avoiding dialogues is precisely this. He always keeps himself in a separate frame than the people who are calling his bluff. Any acceptance of a debate or dialogue means inviting the pointed finger into his frame. The PR canvas must remain unblemished to work properly.
He will continue running away from debates because any statement he utters must appear as the absolute truth. Any action taken by him must continue to be seen as the perfect action.
Even a mere 15-minute debate with ‘Pappu’ can lead to a PR disaster for his image, for it is standing on a house of cards. He doesn’t have too many achievements to boast about, and the opposition has facts in its favour. Therefore, it would take just a single question to burst the inflated balloon of his credibility and incorruptibility.
Ironically, other candidates in Karnataka are in a worse position than him when it comes to a debate. Not every candidate has the ability to introspect and acknowledge their lack of intelligence and integrity. Not every candidate has money for the exorbitant PR either. This is the reason why they put leaders like Sambit Patra to save the image of their dear leader.
The BJP’s CM candidate Yeddyurappa is also burdened with corruption charges, and the return of the Reddy mining mafia in his party.
I will be most happy to be proved wrong, and for Modi to accept the debate challenge. It will be a great day for democracy if we are relieved of ‘the Modi monologues’.
Dhruv Rathee is an activist and YouTuber.