Monday, Dec 25, 2023

Tavleen Singh writes: Please answer the questions, PM Modi

It has long been evident that one of the great skills of the Modi government is to create a distraction every time it finds itself in a tight spot and this is what it did with the harmless spoof on the Vice President.

It is rarely that you would have spotted praise for Rahul Gandhi in this column. He has an annoying way of speaking on serious issues in the tone and language of a schoolboy, and when I try helpfully to point this out, I come under a barrage of abuse from Congress supporters. On social media, ‘secular’ trolls are every bit as venomous as ‘communal’ trolls. If this week I begin with unusual praise of Rahul, it is because he said something very important last week about the media. While cruising news channels, I came upon footage of him being accosted by aggressive TV reporters demanding to know why he had made a video of the MP who mimicked the Vice President.

Rahul’s response was that he was surprised that they considered this worth asking him about instead of the expulsion from Parliament of 146 opposition MPs. Did they not see how absurd it was to ask about the video and not the expulsion?

It is absurd. And it is more than that. It has long been evident that one of the great skills of the Modi government is to create a distraction every time it finds itself in a tight spot and this is what it did with the harmless spoof on the Vice President. In countries that are truly democratic, it is normal for presidents, prime ministers, ministers and vice presidents to be mocked publicly by political commentators, gossip columnists and comedians. So, it is hard to understand why the President of India, the Prime Minister, the defense minister and sundry underlings started frothing at the mouth about the ‘mimicry’ of the Vice President and then made Rahul Gandhi the target. Why was he making videos of this outrage? Why was he smiling? Why did he not walk away?


Perhaps, because it was a harmless spoof. What was not harmless is what happened inside Parliament on December 13. The Opposition was right in demanding answers from the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. It is surprising that instead of conceding this valid demand for a debate, the action taken was to expel 146 Opposition MPs. They may have been rowdy and unruly, but they have behaved in similar fashion in the past and not found themselves tossed out of Parliament in this way.

Could it be that this action was taken because the government is genuinely embarrassed by the ease with which two young men managed to get inside the Lok Sabha and set off smoke bombs? If this is the case, there is even more reason why a debate should have been allowed in Parliament on this attack that happened on the anniversary of another attack on Parliament twenty years ago. The attackers that time were jihadist terrorists armed with automatic weapons who came from across the border. Six policemen and two parliamentary staff members lost their lives stopping the killers before they could do what they came to do.

Festive offer

This time the attackers may only have set off smoke bombs, but what if those canisters had contained poison gas? What if these ‘unemployed’ young people were not acting on their own and were conducting a rehearsal for something much worse to come? These questions are much more important than whether the spoof on the Vice President was an insult to the nation as senior BJP leaders have said.

What is worrying in my humble opinion is that celebrated TV anchors and senior political commentators fell into the government’s trap and gave undue importance to the spoof, and not enough to the government’s refusal to answer questions in Parliament. The Prime Minister has admitted more than once that the incident was ‘serious’ and the Home Minister has given interviews outside the Lok Sabha promising an investigation into what happened. Why could these things not have been said inside the house? Why did the opposition benches need to be emptied to prevent a debate?


Why do we in the media not do more to put the government in the dock? Is it because since Narendra Modi became prime minister, we have become what Opposition leaders and government critics call the ‘godi media’? Lapdog journalists? It is true that there are in this ‘amrit kaal’ more pressures on the media than I can remember since the Emergency, but does Modi not understand that this pressure harms his reputation more than it harms the image of the Indian media?

Modi’s relations with the media have been fraught ever since he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. He believes that he was treated unfairly after the riots in 2002. I believe he was. He was maligned in a way that other chief ministers were not when similar communal violence happened in their states.

In Gujarat alone, worse riots happened under earlier chief ministers whose names nobody remembers. These things are all true, but having been prime minister now for more than a decade it could be time for Modi to become more comfortable in his skin. He gave one of his rare interviews to a British newspaper last week and was so pleased with it that he posted it on social media.


As with the media, so with Parliament. These are two of the pillars that hold up democracy. Treating them with disdain by refusing to answer questions does nothing to enhance the image Modi has so assiduously tried to create of India being the ‘mother of democracy.’

First published on: 24-12-2023 at 07:45 IST
Latest Comment
Post Comment
Read Comments