On 27 June, the news channel Times Now aired what was billed as the “interview of 2016”—an exclusive conversation between the prime minister Narendra Modi and Arnab Goswami, the channel’s editor-in-chief and the anchor of its primetime show, The Newshour. Through the day, the channel fanned the buzz by releasing short clips of the duo’s pre-taped interaction. The interview was the prime minister’s first exclusive since he rose to power over two years ago—a fact that Goswami was quick to point out.
But nearly 48 hours later, almost no trace of it has remained in the news cycle. The reason for this fleeting effect is clear. What should rightly have been a landmark interview was a vapid conversation lacking any newsworthy content—save for the prime minister’s comments supposedly ticking off the maverick MP Subramanian Swamy. In utter contrast to his trademark combative style, Goswami composedly asked the prime minister only questions that allowed him to reinforce the ruling party’s public message, and to steer clear of all controversy—a telling choice on the anchor's part.
Though Modi didn’t name Swamy, in response to the anchor’s questions about the MP’s recent criticism of the RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and senior bureaucrats, Modi said, “Whether it’s someone from my party or not, I think such things are inappropriate. The nation won’t benefit from such publicity stunts.” “If anybody considers himself above the system, it is wrong,” he added.
Even the next day’s papers did not find much else worth writing about in the interview. “Modi raps Swamy, says none above the system,” wrote The Hindu, while the Indian Express ran with “PM snubs Swamy: It is inappropriate, a stunt.” Only the Kolkata-based The Telegraph—which has, in the past, forensically questioned Modi’s attempts at image management and blatant media spins—called a spade a spade. The paper termed Modi’s remarks “mild—and implied—rap,” a “gentle rebuke” made without even mentioning the offender’s name.
More galling than the prime minister’s refusal to name Swamy was the certificate of patriotism he issued to Rajan. He could have said a word or two about Rajan’s attempts to clean up bad debts or contain inflation, and Goswami could have pushed him to do so. Instead, Modi merely said Rajan was “someone who loves his country” and “will continue to serve” it—comments uncannily similar to those of the RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy. In an interview published in the Economic Times just a day before Goswami’s, Gurumurthy said that “culturally, Rajan is perhaps mentally more Indian than some of our liberals.” It appears that the stamp of approval for the governor was originally issued by the Sangh Parivar.