The PM must listen, too

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known to be a great communicator. BJP president Amit Shah said in Amethi recently that the "first thing we did was to give the country a prime minister who speaks." Modi is a speaker who uses emotions, rhetoric, expressions and modulations with great effect to convey messages to his audience. He talks to the people regularly in his 'Mann ki Baat' radio programme and is active on social media. But, while the prime minister's speaking skills are often noted, his failure to listen is not always taken note of. No communication is complete without the ability to listen and respond, and without efforts to reach
out and draw responses.

In three-and-a-half years since he became the prime minister, Modi has not held a single press conference. Scrutiny by the media is very important in a democracy, especially when the Opposition is weak, as it is now. Previous prime ministers have held frequent media interactions. The head of the executive in a democracy should always be willing to answer queries and criticism of government decisions and policies. But Modi has not allowed himself to be questioned on his disastrous demonetisation decision, the slide of the economy under his watch, the agreement with China on Doklam, if there was one, the situation in Kashmir, the increasing violence and social tension over issues like cow protection, and several major issues. Also, he hardly attends Parliament to listen to debates. He tweeted on the occasion of the National Press Day that "a free press is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. We are fully committed to upholding freedom of press and expression in all forms", but a blank editorial in a Hindi daily in Rajasthan brought out stark reality of the state BJP government's attempt at gagging the press. Only public outcry and not Modi ensured that the state government backtracked and deferred its decision.

Modi picks and chooses the issues he wants to comment on, avoids important issues time and again and is frugal with facts on many others. The responses to events, especially inconvenient ones, are delayed and inadequate. His comments on the violence by 'gau rakshaks' were, for example, ambiguous. The prime minister only conveys his own view and version of events when he talks or tweets. That is a politician's mode, and should not be the prime minister's norm. Modi should be ready to answer questions in public about his government and its decisions and policies and not be shy of scrutiny and criticism. He only talks to the country and is not in conversation with the nation. What is there to be afraid of?

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