Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interview on Monday was an opportunity to know his mind on various contentious issues right from demonetization to the bedeviled relationship with Pakistan. He also talked at length about economy, for example the GST and the resignation of former RBI governor Urjit Patel, besides Ram Mandir, the prevailing politics in the country and the surgical strikes.In comparison to his interviews in the past, which more or less appeared geared to glorify the PM’s personality and the achievements, this one was moderately more wide-ranging and quizzing in tone. And the PM seemed comfortable handling it. He was eloquent as usual in his responses, albeit staying short of saying anything contentious. For example, on Ram Mandir he said the government will wait for judicial process to play out and then do whatever is deemed necessary. This has made it clear that the union government is not in a hurry to expedite the construction of Ram Mandir. This thinking must have been occasioned by the outcome of the recent elections in five states where staple Hindutva issues didn’t find much resonance.
Modi also slightly modified his earlier pitch for Congress-mukt Bharat, implying it was not about ridding India of the party but of the “Congress thinking and culture”. He, however, wasn’t on a strong wicket on demonetization, saying the move came after his warning to people to deposit their ill-gotten wealth in banks wasn’t heeded. For this explanation hardly accounts for the collective punishment the entire population of the country was subjected to for no fault of theirs and the massive disruption that it caused to supply networks and the larger economy.
The PM was in his element in his defence of surgical strikes and in articulating a rationale for not talking to Pakistan. For once, he revealed in detail the preparations that had gone into launching the strikes ever since 19 soldiers were killed in Uri attack. And at the same time agreed with the opposition parties that the strikes shouldn’t be politicized but Modi stood his ground on the contention that the “valour of the soldiers should be highlighted”.
On talks with Pakistan, the PM held on to his position that there would be no dialogue with Islamabad “unless it shuns terrorism”. He reiterated that it is difficult to hear each other amid the roar of guns and bombs. However, he kept the options open when asked whether he would go to Pakistan to attend the SAARC conference. “We will cross the bridge when we reach it”.
Overall, the interview was restrained, didn’t add much to the public discourse and seemed chiefly geared to contest the opposition’s allegations against the BJP government, something that in recent past seems to have gained some traction. But the PM did little to assuage the concerns about his government’s purported role in encouraging and deepening the polarization in the society. Going forward, one can hardly expect the party to change course, considering the looming election. If anything, the interview makes it clear that clarity on policies and actions can only emerge after the general elections.
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