(Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist, political commentator, globe trotter and author. He has covered all Indian elections since 1971 and significant international events. He is a frequent participant on TV debates.)
During the election campaign, when Narendra Modi seemed to be on every channel 24X7, some media persons trying to psycho-analyze him labelled him a megalomaniac. Others said he was a narcissist. There was also a comment that he was an extraordinary media manipulator. But by and large, there was consensus among his supporters and his critics, that he was a fantastic media-event manager who engineered every moment in the media to create a certain image of himself.
To suit the TV medium, he meticulously planned his dress and diction, his moods and his actions. In a way, those famous electronic masks made him surreal. He began to enjoy a sort of transcendental surrealism. Hostile media appeared converted into embedded media. But at the core, Modi never trusted the media. He knew that the media had played a big role in destroying the image of the Congress. And he was also aware that he had shaped his own image. If the media could destroy the "imageless" Manmohan Singh, it could also melt the mask of "Modi the Messiah" or so he thought.
It is that paranoia which is shaping the media policy of Modi as PM. His actions suggest there is an inferiority complex at play. A slip of tongue, a misplaced word or figure, an incorrect analogy or irrelevant anecdote can provide the media what it needs to destroy an image. Modi is taking maximum care that his carefully-crafted image remains intact for at least next five years. He has already announced that he will be Prime Minister again for the second term..
The best way to maintain the image therefore, is to not let it be distorted by the media. The post of media advisor, he has concluded, possibly following Sanjay Baru's unflattering book account of Dr Manmohan Singh, could cause embarrassment and compromise the "second coming" in 2019. Modi feels that media advisors tend to flaunt their closeness to the boss. They also try to pretend that they actually "advise" the Prime Minister. Modi does not need advise. He gives advise, does not take it. Actually, as the ministers have realized by now, he does not only advise, but orders.
Going by the Gujarat Model, it is clear that Modi does not need media. It is the media that feels marginalized if not taken along. Trained by the RSS monastery, he does not feel that the media is or should be a partner in the grandiose development process he lists as his top agenda. What does the media know about the inner decision-making process of the Sangh? How the "politbureau" of the RSS formed and who are its members? Who chooses them? It is a kind of "Saffron Stalinism", if indeed such a structure could be imagined.
In this kind of structure, the media is forced not to debate but just disseminate government decisions. Modi neither watches nor cares for televised debates. Modi has seen how anchors and wise panelists ragged and terrorized the Manmohan Singh government, how editorial writers ruined the credibility of the UPA and how so-called investigative journalists unearthed scandals that piled up for the government.
Modi has seen how the bureaucracy selectively provided leaks to byline-seeking journalists. He has cut off the bureaucratic routes used for years by the media. All the officers are under strict orders to not to have any connection with media. Indeed, there is constant surveillance of the offices to keep tab on who meets whom and to check on whether ministers are spending evenings at social parties. Who knows - some journalists might sneak in these parties and pick up gossip. The RSS pracharaks have used gossip as a kind of guerrilla weapon. Now Modi does not want that weapon to be used against his government.
Modi's rather simple formula is break the nexus of bureaucracy-media-ministers-leaders. Once they realize that they are under a kind of Gestapo-style CCTV vigil, it would not be necessary to gag them. He also knows by experience during the election campaign that media will prostrate and crawl, if asked just to bend and bow. The media has also begun to realize that it is not necessary to declare emergency to have censorship.
If the whole establishment is declared a silent zone and surrounded by a claustrophobic wall, then even if the media blows a horn outside, it will not be heard inside. Soon the media too will be tired and frustrated of the blare of the horn and then total silence will prevail. That is the essence of Modi's media policy!
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