India’s well-meaning media wants Rahul Gandhi to improve, but don’t want Narendra Modi to even learn.
From Pandit Nehru to Indira Gandhi to Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh – everyone travelled abroad and addressed elite conferences, met celebrity media persons and, of course, heads of states. But mostly those visits made just news, rarely inviting acrimonious, cynical or unduly controversial comments.
All that suddenly changed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He started globe-trotting with the frequency that could even beat the pace of 007. Like Modi, James Bond too was fighting global terrorism. Modi also has his “Q” in Ajit Doval.
Either as a counter strategy or an image-building exercise, Rahul Gandhi has also started traveling abroad on work. Since all the elections have been turned into a Modi versus Rahul battle by the BJP, the media too looks at their foreign jaunts in the same competitive mode. In real terms, there is little to compare and judge.
Modi goes everywhere with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. From Rwanda to Russia, from Brazil to Belgium, and from Vietnam to America, Modi meets and hugs world leaders and urges them to join his fight against the menace of terrorism.
In every city or town, from Dubai to Davos, he addresses the infatuated Indian diaspora. He uses all the weapons of mass distraction by lecturing them, and launches a vitriolic attack on the Congress. He tells them how he has changed India since 2014. The fully trained audience loudly cheers the messiah and chants “Modi Modi Modi”.
But there is one thing Modi avoids: open press conferences abroad, like he does in India.
The local media in those respective countries do not pay much attention to his mass meetings, not even to his hugs and discussions with heads of those states. But the Indian media, especially the TV channels, cover his each and every step: from boarding the plane in Delhi to landing, to glad-handing Indians on the street, to mass meetings, to beating the drums, playing the flute and posing for group photographs.
His itinerary is followed, minute by minute, by our media although he does not take any media person along with him on his hectic tours. His speeches are shown live in India and then repeated in every news bulletin, in all languages. But Modi’s laughable factual blunders, gross lies and half-truths are cunningly ignored by the media. Those are perhaps reserved only for the social media.
There are already more books on Modi’s foreign policy than on Nehru’s original and creative initiatives. Modi is working not only for the present but also for posterity. He wants to leave a footprint on the world geography before he embarks on his second term.
Nehru’s great grandson, Rahul, also goes abroad, but of course not as frequently as Modi. His speeches or interviews too are covered, but more for alleged gaffes and so-called slips. Notwithstanding the ridicule and intense hostility, Rahul meets media for open Q&A sessions. So, the media is constantly looking for what they call self-goals.
Since Modi never faces the media, he does not have to answer awkward questions. How many times has Modi been asked about 2002 after he became the Prime Minister? Rahul can be questioned and even cornered for 1984 anti-Sikh riots although he was only 14 then.
Modi was 52 years old and the chief minister of Gujarat when the 2002 genocide took place under his watch. Yet, Modi gets a free pass with the media.
Rahul, on the other hand, is an opposition leader and obviously does not get the saturated media coverage like Modi. Some of his visits are for “vipashyanas”, or psychological inward search rather than changing the world outside.
Yet, Rahul gets juxtaposed all the time with a Modi. Media enjoys this juxtaposition, which can easily tilt the balance in favour of Modi. If Rahul is condemned or made to look like a fool or a dimwit, then the intelligent columnists and pontificating commentators are happy. All of them become “well-meaning and empathetic” advisers to Rahul. They all want Rahul to improve. But nobody wants Modi even to learn or improve. Modi has admirers, Rahul has advisers.
This charade will continue till the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, and even afterwards. With a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ slogan, Modi has decided, like a political reductionist, to make the country Rahul-Mukt as well. The media has joined the charade. But it is losing the sting and even the drama, leave alone the race. But then there is no other way to keep people away from the uncomfortable economic and political reality.
Kumar Ketkar is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha.
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