An analysis of the transcripts of all episodes of Mann Ki Baat shows how PM Modi uses the platform to convey his message while remaining apolitical.
New Delhi: He has hailed swachhata (cleanliness) and yoga, pushed for Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, doffed his cap to the defence forces, talked about the specially-abled, lauded sportspersons, wished people on each festival and glided through amorphous issues such as the weather and exam pressure on students. In the four years that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been sharing his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ with the country, we have heard it all.
All, that is, except one thing — any mention of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The 48th edition of Mann Ki Baat this Sunday (30 September), marked four years of the PM’s radio programme — an initiative that has been dear to Modi; one in which he is deeply invested and on which he spends considerable time.
A detailed analysis of the transcripts of all 48 episodes of the programme by ThePrint shows what some of the PM’s favourite topics have been across the seasons, how he uses the platform to convey his government’s message even while remaining cautiously apolitical, and who are the national heroes he likes to hail.
The radio show, which made its debut on 3 October 2014, just a few months after the Modi government came to power, is broadcast on the last Sunday of every month. It is now strictly under 30 minutes, even though during a period in 2015-16, it went on to a slightly longer duration of around 35 minutes. The format involves the PM touching upon a gamut of subjects, and also taking questions.
PM Modi’s much-touted cleanliness campaign — Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan — has been one of the most oft-mentioned issues on Mann Ki Baat, starting from the inaugural edition.
“Yesterday, on 2 October, on the eve of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, more than 125 crore countrymen have started the Swachh Bharat movement. I had shared one thought yesterday which is that I will nominate nine people and they need to upload their videos of cleaning the nation on social media websites, and nominating nine more people to do the same. I want you all to join me, clean the nation, and nominate nine more people to clean the nation, and those nine people must do the same,” Modi said in the first edition. Rarely has he not talked about it subsequently.
The initial phase of Mann Ki Baat, in fact, also saw several references to khadi, with the PM urging people to buy more of it, also talking about Mahatma Gandhi in the process, including in the first episode. It was also mentioned in 2015, but didn’t seem a favourite topic in 2016. In 2017, khadi came back in vogue, with the PM remarking in October 2017: “Khadi and handloom are empowering the poor by bringing positive and qualitative changes in their lives.”
Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, his government’s famous tagline for saving and educating the girl child, has been yet another recurring theme. This theme has sometimes been referred to directly, and sometimes through other topics like women doing well in sports and other fields, or in the context of International Women’s Day.
Modi, who referred to himself as Pradhan Sevak (prime servant) in the first episode, talks extensively about yoga — yet another issue that finds mention in every other Mann Ki Baat. International Yoga Day, the benefits of Yoga, and his own interest in it are some of the themes he has touched upon.
Sports, and lauding India’s sportspersons after successful events, has been a hallmark of the radio show, particularly more pronounced since 2016. The greater emphasis on sports corresponds with the PM’s Twitter timeline, which has also increasingly seen more mention of sports and sportspersons.
Divyang or specially-abled persons have also found mentions several times, with the PM encouraging greater sensitivity towards them and also lauding achievers.
The PM also does not refrain from talking about some of his government’s flagship schemes like the Jan Dhan Yojana and Mudra loans.
Special political messages
Mann Ki Baat has been kept strictly apolitical, at least overtly. The PM’s political messages have, of course, been implicit. He has used the platform several times to convey his government’s stand on important issues. The PM has never mentioned his party, the BJP, on air.
The January 2015 edition, for instance, marked a high in Mann Ki Baat, which Modi co-anchored with visiting US President Barack Obama. This wasn’t just about getting the then-US President on air, it was also Modi’s message on diplomacy, to showcase his equation with Obama and the Indo-US bonhomie.
Interestingly, it was Obama who fielded most questions in this episode. “There should be an e-book made of the talk between Barack and me today. I hope the organisers of Mann Ki Baat will release this e-book,” Modi had said.
Nearly the entire April 2015 episode was dedicated to the Nepal earthquake. The PM has also spoken about other natural calamities like droughts and floods, including the recent Kerala floods, in various ‘Mann Ki Baat’ episodes.
Justification of controversial policies
When the Modi government attempted to dilute the 2013 Land Acquisition Act through ordinances, it received massive backlash from farmers and opposition parties. The PM was forced to dedicate one entire edition to it, in a rare instance.
“My farmer brothers, I have found one primary problem among your various questions that is the ‘Acquisition of Land Bill’ prevailing in almost all the states. I am shocked to hear these rumours spread across the country,” Modi said in the March 2015 episode, explaining how his government’s ordinance was pro-farmer.
“I have heard the rumours being spread, that the Modi government is passing a law, which will provide less remuneration to the farmers and they will not receive the full compensation. My dear farmer brothers and sisters, I cannot even think of committing this sin.”
However, with rising pressure and the potential electoral backlash, the BJP government decided to withdraw the ordinance — announced by Modi in the August 2015 edition.
The PM also used Mann Ki Baat to clarify the government’s stand on perhaps its most defining and controversial decision — demonetisation.
In the November 2016 episode, just three weeks after banning the old Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes, Modi said: “The decision to implement demonetisation wasn’t easy. There will be inconvenience to rid the country of the troubles of 70 years.
“Government, post offices and banks are working hard & with dedication to fight evils of black money & corruption: Despite inconvenience, people across the country have accepted the demonetisation drive. This shows their potential.”
The Goods and Services tax (GST) and his government’s decision to increase the minimum support prices on crops to 1.5 times the input cost are also some of the big policy decisions he has spoken on at length.
In the July 2017 episode, after the implementation of the GST bill, Modi appreciated Centre-state cooperation “in the smooth roll-out of GST…It demonstrates the collective strength of our country”.
PM Modi has hailed the armed forces many times in Mann Ki Baat, even talking about how he spent Diwali with them for many years.
“When the entire country stands with our forces, the strength of our jawans increases 125 crore times,” he said in November 2016, after celebrating Diwali with ITBP and Army jawans. In October 2017 too, he spoke about spending Diwali with the jawans.
His remarks during this Sunday’s programme — a warning that while India believes in peace, it isn’t at the cost of self-respect, and that there will be consequences — weren’t his first on the subject.
“It is now clear that our soldiers will give a befitting reply to those who try to disrupt the atmosphere of peace,” he said.
After the Uri attack in 2016, the PM had been as vocal. “The attackers will not go unpunished. We have full faith in our soldiers. They will always give a fitting reply to those spreading terror,” he had said in September 2016.
The PM has also spoken about Kashmir and how the onus of protecting its people lies with the government of India.
Favoured historical personalities
The mandate of Mann Ki Baat has been clear — promote and hail more of those heroes whom the Congress has not appropriated. For instance, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar has been talked of at length; his birth and death anniversaries have also been observed.
This has also been in tune with the BJP’s attempts to widen its base and woo the Dalit community.
Leaders such as Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, among others, have also found prominent references.
Of course, Mahatma Gandhi has been omnipresent. While Rabindranath Tagore has been hailed, and Kabir’s poetry has also found mention, Mother Teresa, Sister Nivedita and achievers such as astronaut Kalpana Chawla have also been spoken about.
Focus on children
Through Mann Ki Baat, PM Modi has attempted to develop a connect with children. In the very first edition, Modi reached out to children, and thereafter, has spent considerable time in ‘counselling’ them ahead of exams, giving them advice on what to do during summer breaks and asking them to be stress-free.
The February 2015 episode — coming just ahead of the examination season — was an entirely motivational one.
“I do not have the right to guide you on how to write a paper or how to pass the exams well. I cannot guide you on the tricks to obtain better marks because I consider myself an average student on such issues. But today, I want to definitely tell you something important. How you approach exams goes a long way in deciding the results of your exams,” the PM said.
In another instance, in January 2017, he said: “Appear for exams with pleasure and not under any pressure. Smile more to score more.”
Modi went on to author a book called Exam Warriors, released early this year.
There have also been smaller initiatives, such as the April 2017 edition when he urged children to keep out water for animals and birds, as well as advising them to learn new skills in the summer holidays.
The PM makes sure any Mann Ki Baat around a festival begins with wishes. Diwali, Holi, Ramzaan, Eid, Christmas, Ganesh Chaturthi, Janmashtami, Buddha Purnima, Gurpurab, Raksha Bandhan, Ram Navami, Dussehra, Chhath, harvest festivals, the New Year — he has never forgotten to greet the public on any of these occasions.
Mann Ki Baat has sometimes been fun and games, sometimes sombre, often policy-oriented, frequently motivational and philosophical, and never overtly political.
And yet, underneath all of this, PM Modi has craftily used the radio show to broadcast his political messages and convey his government’s position through his choice of words and issues, as well as the personalities he has mentioned.