Modi breaks the ice with media at first meet

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

NEW DELHI: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to journalists on Saturday for the first time since taking office, aiming to mend his rocky relations with the press.

The right-wing leader, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in a landslide election in May, has never given a press conference and prefers using state media as well as his huge Facebook and Twitter following to communicate with the masses.

But in an apparent break from the approach passed on by his predecessors — who similarly shunned regular media interactions — he addressed more than 200 journalists at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, pledging to meet them more often.

“I am looking for ways to strengthen my relationship with you and… I will try to find time to meet you more often,” said the Hindu nationalist, an announcement welcomed by journalists who have complained of a lack of two-way communication with the new government.

After an eight-minute speech in which he thanked the media for its coverage of his ‘Clean India’ campaign — aimed at tidying up public spaces — he stepped off the dais to shake hands and briefly chat with top editors and reporters, who scrambled to pose for “selfies” with the tech-savvy premier.

But Modi faced flak from critics for not taking any questions from the media. He has carefully controlled his communication strategy since coming to power, mostly choosing the state-backed Doordarshan broadcaster and All India Radio to address India’s 1.2 billion-strong population.

He is also immensely popular on Facebook and Twitter — where he has 24 million “likes” and 7.3 million followers respectively — and uses these websites as platforms to express his views and make announcements.

Journalists are often asked to refer to official press statements and Modi’s Twitter feed for news, leaving private news organizations grumbling over Modi’s one-way interaction which they say offers no debate and shields him from tough questions.

 
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