From the evidently pre-selected questions to the promotional slides on a screen redolent of the official audio-visual department, the choreography was palpably intended to present the prime minister in as good a light as possible in a 'safe' environment insulated from uncomfortable questions,' says Amulya Ganguli.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi with Prasoon Joshi at the Bharat Ki Baat event in London, April 18, 2018. Photograph: @PIBIndia/Twitter
For all the hype on saffron-hued television channels about an unprecedented and unscripted interaction with the hoi polloi by Narendra D Modi in London, the show turned out to be yet another stage-managed presentation for which the BJP's spin doctors have acquired fame or notoriety, depending on the viewer's perspective.
Going by what the author of The Brotherhood in Saffron, Walter Andersen recently said about the behind-the-scene role played by the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which is affiliated to the RSS, in New York to drum up support for Modi at a similar function meant for the Indian Diaspora, there is little doubt that about the RSS hand behind the London event as well.
What was noteworthy was how all the dissenting voices were kept out by controlling the number of visitors via a system of registration.
As a result, a group of students who wanted to ask the prime minister about the recent rapes in India found no place in the auditorium. Nor a satisfactory reply when they asked the foreign secretary about their exclusion.
Not surprisingly, the audience proved to be no different from what might be expected in a party forum, clapping and cheering the prime minister as he spoke on the various government programmes such as health care and even provide a glimpse into how he regards his 1.25 billion countrymen as members of his family, which is why serving them does not tire him out.
This response was to a question from a member of the audience who wanted to know the secret behind his seemingly unbounded energy.
The anchor, who is the censor board chief and a poet, Prasoon Joshi, played his facilitating role to the hilt, even asking why some in the Opposition criticized the army -- shades of a pro-BJP television channel! -- which made Modi play the forgiving elder statesman to seek divine intervention in driving sense into such elements.
From the evidently pre-selected questions to the promotional slides on a screen redolent of the official audio-visual department, the choreography was palpably intended to present the prime minister in as good a light as possible in a 'safe' environment insulated from uncomfortable questions.
Since he was preaching to the converted, the event had a surreal atmosphere.
From this aspect, Modi adhered to his routine of avoiding the kind of open press conferences which his predecessors from V P Singh to Manmohan Singh used to hold or the leaders of democratic countries continue to address.
The prime minister will be entering his fifth year in office, therefore, without having had to allow himself to be questioned at a large gathering of media personnel. His focus, instead, remains on delivering monologues whether at a public rally or during a closed door event.
Subsequently, a BJP MP remarked on Modi's confidence, but who wouldn't be self-assured if there was no one to ask who 'misled' the two BJP MLAs in Jammu and Kashmir into supporting the accused in the rape of an eight-year-old child in Kathua.
Or about the arrest of another BJP MLA in connection with the rape of a 17 year old in Unnao, UP, but only after the state government had been criticised by the Allahabad high court for not nabbing the suspect earlier.
Or about the attack on four Dalits by gau rakshaks in Modi's home province of Gujarat.
Or about the agrarian distress which made an estimated 50,000 farmers march for a week from Nashik to Mumbai, a distance of 180 km.
Or about the communal riots in Bihar after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and about the arrest of a Union minister's son for inciting violence against Muslims during the recent Ram Navami festival.
Or about the efficacy of the sabka saath, sabka vikas mantra of development for all when a BJP MP, Vinay Katiyar, says that after the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh, Muslims have no right to live in India.
Or about the observation by the founder of the Jan Sangh-BJP, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, that only a civil war can solve the Hindu-Muslim 'problem', as quoted by Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy, formerly of the BJP.
As a former diplomat said during a television discussion on Modi's speech, the division of the Diaspora between those who admire the ruling party and those who don't was a tactic which earlier prime ministers, including the BJP's Atal Bihari Vajpayee, didn't follow. They always addressed the NRIs as a whole.
The rift seemingly favoured by the present government carries the danger of dividing the Diaspora into nationalists and anti-nationalists, as is being done in India.
Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.