Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Reuters

During his five-year tenure as prime minister of India, Narendra Modi has never addressed an open press conference, or even engaged with a select group of journalists. He has instead relied on directly reaching out to people through social media. His reign has marked a hostile, antagonistic flare-up between the treasury benches and the media without a thaw or pause.

Ever since the day in 2007 when he walked out of a television interview with Karan Thapar, one of India’s leading TV interviewers, Modi let an inner view rigidify that the media, especially the national English-language media based in Delhi, were viscerally antagonistic to him. It seems that he thought that since the media would always be unfair to him, he was not answerable to them.

Within minutes of the interview being recorded for CNN-IBN, in which Thapar began his questions with phrases like “members of the Muslim community call you a mass murderer on your face,” “you are like a modern-day Nero,” and “justice has not been done in Modi’s Gujarat,” Modi walked out. Before leaving he said, “I thought we were friends. But your continued hostility towards me tells me it is best to let you continue your tirade.”

In the run-up to the general election of 2014, he called such journalists “news traders.” Modi and several of his Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior leaders, besides millions of his diehard followers, are convinced that if most, if not all, journalists, certainly those dubbed “Lutyens media,” have been co-opted into echoing the Congress party narrative and are brazenly corrupt.

“Keep your anti-Modi narrative going, Rajdeep.” he told Rajdeep Sardesai, a prominent TV journalist, in an interview long before he became prime minister. When Sardesai mentioned the phrase “merchant of death” (Maut ka saudagar), an invective hurled at Modi first by Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, Modi retorted with barely masked disgust, “For years, your only job has been to abuse Modi. I am told journalists like you are rewarded with a membership to Rajya Sabha [India’s upper house of Parliament] or a Padma Shri [one of the highest civilian awards].”

Those were among the last instances of when Modi, as the chief minister of Gujarat, tried to mend fences with the English or Delhi media. The relationship between the two went sour after the fateful Gujarat riots of 2002.

Bypassing the media

Since he never trusted the media, Modi focused on developing an alternative space to reach out to the people directly. By 2013, he had built one of the most impressive social-media presences. He chose to address and interact with people directly online. Meanwhile, the traditional media passively gazed and reported from a show millions had already seen or had perhaps even directly participated in, and thus reduced their importance.

Like most leaders in the right-wing Hindutva space, Modi had always been distrustful of the media because it was dominated by “decadent liberals” and “leftists.” At best, he viewed it not as the fourth pillar of democracy but as a necessary evil. Once social media helped circumvent traditional media, the necessity was gone from Modi’s necessary evil – and it remained only as “evil” for him.

With Modi sweeping the elections in 2014 and becoming the first Indian politician to win a complete majority in 30 years, most other Indian leaders and political parties, believing social media were the panacea, jumped on to the bandwagon. They joined Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, besides creating their own websites and Instagram and LinkedIn accounts, among others. With social media becoming a crucial part of the armory of rich politicians, along came professional account managers. And trolls.

Trolls and politics

By strategy or accident, these five years have marked, simultaneously, both the decline of the Indian media, firmly defenestrated from their heyday no longer perceived as an important connection between leaders and the public, and the rise of paid trolls. Instead of politicians using post-interview off-the-record discussions with journalists to sense the pulse of the people, they moved to data scientists and social-media handlers, with their trending hashtags, paid followers, fake likes, and rigged trends. Journalists and media houses were relegated from any pretense of significance and started to reduce the focus on ground reporting or questioning the powerful. They instead shifted to diatribes and demagoguery disguised as “debates” at prime time.

Between the triumphant march of the rampaging trolls on social media and plain rhetorical sermonizing on TV, marked by harangues and soapbox oratory from anchors and preachy editorials from armchair experts peddling rehashes of their narratives, India became more divided than ever before.

It was not a communal divide – it was not merely a Hindu-Muslim divide, or between those who differed on policy matters relating to education, health care, environment or taxes; it was a divide based on the oldest political trick of them all – possibly asked for the first time by Cleon in the Assembly of Athens – whose side are you on?

Journalists and common people came to be identified and were tagged, derisively, based on whether they were right-wing supporters of Modi and his Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), or were anti-Modi. The liberals tagged Modi’s followers as Bhakts (or blind followers and worshippers). They were also insulted as sanghis, relating the Modi followers to the BJP’s parent organization Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh and “saffronistas,” referring to the saffron color the BJP hinges on. In turn, anti-Modi persons were called the following: “Sickularists,” a twist on the word secular; “Prestitutes,” a juxtaposition of press and prostitutes; “Libtards,” meaning liberal retards; and so on.

Then came the designation “anti-national.” Once the BJP and Modi brought nationalism to the center through a posse of issues, underlying which was the principle of “you can’t question me or you are an ‘anti-national.’”

It reached a point where, in a total collapse of professional courtesies and personal respect, media began abusing each other, calling for boycotting, even banning, of each other’s media outlets solely based on whether they (blindly) supported Modi or (completely) opposed him. Years ago, the media tried to get Modi, but here he was, the survivor, who got to the media instead. Today, one section of the media has lost credibility, and ironically, the other has lost its audience and advertising revenues.

The only media interactions Modi has had since his term began have been a few exclusive interviews granted to obsequious scribes. Rather than ask the prime minister questions, they provided prompts for him to continue to pontificate as in his public speeches on such occasions as completing three or four years of his term.

Prime Minister Modi did not even address the media after a terror attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama took the lives of more than 40 police personnel and shook the nation. It is most unlikely that he will actually have a presser before India goes to polls on April 11. And if Modi gets a second term in office, it may be five more years of him dodging the media.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

47 Comments

  1. Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Thanks for your time!

  2. all the time i used to read smaller articles or reviews which as well clear their
    motive, and that is also happening with this post which I
    am reading at this place.

  3. Excellent beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your site, how could i subscribe for a blog website? The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided bright clear concept

  4. I do trust all the ideas you have introduced in your post.
    They’re very convincing and will certainly work.
    Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for
    novices. May just you please lengthen them a
    little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  5. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read something like this before. So nice to search out somebody with some unique thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for starting this up. this web site is something that is needed on the net, somebody with a little originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

  6. What’s up i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this piece of writing i thought i
    could also create comment due to this good piece of writing.

  7. Its like you learn my thoughts! You seem to
    know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I feel that you can do with some % to force the message house a little bit, but other than that, that is
    great blog. An excellent read. I’ll definitely be back.

  8. Hello! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say
    I really enjoy reading your articles. Can you recommend
    any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects?
    Thanks a ton!

  9. An attention-grabbing dialogue is price comment. I think that it’s best to write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject however typically individuals are not sufficient to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  10. Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and all. Nevertheless just imagine if you added some great visuals or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and clips, this blog could definitely be one of the very best in its field. Excellent blog!

  11. My coder is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on a variety of websites for about a year and am
    worried about switching to another platform. I have heard excellent things about blogengine.net.
    Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into it?

    Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

  12. Definitely believe that which you stated.
    Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet the easiest thing
    to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people think about worries that they
    plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the
    top and defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal.
    Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  13. Hey! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same
    niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You
    have done a marvellous job!

  14. “Excellent blog you have here.. It’s difficult to find high quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!”

  15. Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility
    issues. When I look at your blog in Opera, it looks fine but when opening
    in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, very good blog!

  16. Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as
    I provide credit and sources back to your site? My blog is in the exact same niche as yours and my users would truly benefit
    from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this
    ok with you. Cheers!

  17. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment
    didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

  18. Heya! I realize this is kind of off-topic however
    I needed to ask. Does operating a well-established blog such as yours require
    a large amount of work? I’m brand new to running a blog however I do write
    in my diary on a daily basis. I’d like to start a blog
    so I can share my experience and thoughts online. Please let me
    know if you have any recommendations or tips for new aspiring bloggers.
    Thankyou!

  19. I blog frequently and I truly thank you for your information. This great article has really peaked my interest.

    I will take a note of your blog and keep checking for new details about once per week.
    I opted in for your RSS feed as well.

  20. Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive
    a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be
    a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.
    I know this is completely off topic but I had to share
    it with someone!

  21. My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of
    your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content
    available for you? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on a number of the subjects you write about here.
    Again, awesome site!

  22. Hello i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this post i thought i could also create comment due
    to this sensible piece of writing.

  23. We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with helpful information to work on. You have done a formidable task and our whole group can be grateful to you.

  24. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before
    but after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  25. you’re really a excellent webmaster. The website loading velocity is incredible. It kind of feels that you are doing any distinctive trick. Also, The contents are masterpiece. you’ve performed a fantastic activity on this subject!

  26. The only one struggling when you go on tilt is you. On the other hand, online poker video games have various methods of handling poker cash. While the Stud variants in 8 sport poker are 7 Card Stud, Razz, and Stud Hello-Lo.

  27. The most popular kind of poker right now is known as Texas Hold “Em. You have to be a great deal more cautious as well as you have to pay interest to the game. That is a huge sum for extra cash from a game.

  28. This means that the small blind functions first before flop and acts last in succeeding rounds. I’ve come to realize that almost no one’s primary purpose for playing is strictly to make cash.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *