Alongside the rather unfair comparison with Donald Trump, Imran Khan is also compared to the guy next door.
But if we say these are unfair comparisons, why do we say so? Those making these comparisons certainly never said that these three right-nationalist leaders were identical. After all, even the best of analogies break down at some point or the other.
The sheer struggle of Donald Trump (he didn’t), Narendra Modi (he did) and Imran Khan (says he did) might be different but it can’t be denied that there are some eerie similarities between the leaders as well. There certainly are similarities between the more rabid of their support bases (the Alt-Right, Youthias and the Bhakts) as well. Whereas the supporters of other political parties have the habit of occasionally not letting facts get in the way of their arguments, this lot moves a couple of steps further and actively stares down facts.
Without getting into other similarities, I would like to limit the scope of this article to the three’s tenuous relationship with the news media.
The press is bound to be critical of the government and the latter is, therefore, bound to be defensive. That is the way this particular dance is danced. Fair enough. And whenever the media, even if only certain sections of the press, are being a little too unfair to the sitting government, then the information apparatus and spin factories of the government can even call them out occasionally. But to actively position oneself as the enemy of the news media, and to categorise each and every criticism, however much it is backed by data, as “fake news,” is ratcheting up the uneasy-at-the-best-of-times relationship between sitting governments and the press to a dangerous level. The resilient American democracy will survive this approach; the Indians, far more shakily; and we, in our hapless Republic, might be left with some irrevocable damage.
To have favourites within the media is understandable, obviously. To give interviews only to those, is not. That is not acceptable for political parties that are in government.
Donald Trump has his Fox and Friends and next door in India, Narendra Modi has his own pet talk show hosts. Modi’s particular style trumps Trump, however, as those interviews are a treat to watch. The guy gets absolutely no questions about the performance of his government. Any and all questions are about the last guys. Yes, it is the Congress Party that is trashed mostly, with the Aam Aadmi Party (because of it being in Delhi) and the Left that is pilloried. Modiji, Rahul Gandhi said this, how silly is he, Modiji?
Any questions about himself are fluffier-than-fluff. Where do you get the energy, Modiji? Where does this selflessness come from, Modiji?
(Online readers, do check out the video compiled by Indian media outlet News Laundry below)
It runs like a fan interview of Atif Aslam, not the prime minister. This trait isn’t new with him. You see, one decade ago, Modi was being touted (correctly, it turned out) as the BJP’s best chance of forming the national government. His performance in Gujarat as CM was being appreciated (whether this impression had any merit is another story) and he was to become the face of the party. The problem: with Modi, the elephant in the room is the issue of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat when he was chief minister. This was a problem that even party grandee LK Advani, who had led the Rath Yatra for the demolition of the Babri Mosque, didn’t have at quite the same magnitude that Modi did.
While planning his now-infamous 2008 interview with Narendra Modi, Karan Thapar thought he would address the elephant in the room earlier on in the interview so he could move on to be free to ask the other questions later on. Instead of spouting out a well-rehearsed response that would have been meticulously engineered and calibrated by the party Machine, Thapar was surprised to find out that Modi shut down the interview! The interview was barely a couple of minutes long!
The interview quickly spread like wildfire, being broadcast on a lot of channels, but the lesson learnt was not war-gaming before interviews but limiting interviews to ones guaranteed to almost be like PR exercises.
We see some of the same in the PTI. The hounding out of Geo was something indicative of that. But that was when the party was in opposition (though even then, it was in power in KP) and the dynamic was different.
One wouldn’t make much of the hounding out of Saleem Safi either. Like politicians, journalists should also learn to develop a thicker skin. If the likes of Mubasher Lucman and Dr Shahid Masood can pull factoids against politicians out of thin air, they should also be liable to be pilloried online. Safi is considerably more meticulous, but that shouldn’t spare him either because his detractors certainly don’t think so.
But what is scary is a Modi-like reliance on friendly anchors and journalists. Look at the picture below. We all know who was invited and who wasn’t.
Furthermore, look at the government’s first media strategy! It is going to be focused, much like Modi’s, on the last guys!