'What the interview with Modi told me was that now he is open to granting interviews.'
'And in this connection let me offer our credentials for being considered in this election season,' says Saisuresh Sivaswamy.
With election season well and truly upon us, the interview season too is here, headlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's interview to ABP News on Friday morning. But on to other things first.
Former colleague and legend among journalists Sheela Bhatt on Thursday night interviewed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on L K Advani, who had hours earlier broken his silence and blogged to the party cadres, sending shockwaves through the political establishment.
While the founder of the BJP, who has been superannuated from electoral politics, said nothing damaging to the current regime, what stood out was how the latter responded, showing its resolve to leave nothing to chance.
Immediately, Modi tweeted his appreciation of the man he had shepherded as campaign in-charge during his 2009 prime ministerial bid, saying, 'Advani Ji perfectly sums up the true essence of BJP, most notably the guiding Mantra of 'Nation First, Party Next, Self Last'. Proud to be a BJP Karyakarta and proud that greats like LK Advani Ji have strengthened it'.
Speaking to Sheela, Jaitley was effusive in his praise for Advani, crediting him for pulling the BJP up from the two Lok Sabha seats it had won in 1984 to emerging as the single largest party in 1998 and 1999.
He gave the BJP's core issues acceptability among the middle classes, which was his biggest contribution, Jaitley pointed out. Which, if you shed the ideological glasses and see impartially, is 100 per cent correct.
NDTV too was discussing Advani's blog post, and had got his former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni to shed light on why the senior leader went public when he did.
Sudheen, a former journalist, took the opportunity to speak on how much the BJP under Modi and Amit Shah had moved away from the Vajpayee-Advani days.
I had mentioned earlier that the BJP did not send its saner voices to TV studios, unlike the Congress, but on Thursday night it had. Raghav Awasthi began well, before taking a swipe at Sudheen's political journey from the left to the right and was promptly shushed into silence.
On Times Now, Navika was getting the better of Milind Deora, the Mumbai Congress chief and the candidate from tony Mumbai South.
The focus was clearly on the internal dissensions in the city Congress unit, given that Deora led the rebellion against Sanjay Nirupam before replacing him city chief.
When Milind said there was no bad blood between the two, despite the past, and they remained friends, Navika asked why, in that case, Nirupam abruptly left an event in Colaba being addressed by him. 'Sanjay had told me about a prior commitment in Goregaon, took my permission and left,' Milind clarified, but Navika was not buying it.
When Milind spoke about the decline in Mumbai under the BJP-Shiv Sena, and how the citizens would not even know who the mayor was or who represented them in Delhi, unlike when the Congress had its MPs and everyone knew who he was, Priya Dutt was, etc.
Ah, but that's because you are all naamdaars, whereas the BJP-Shiv Sena MPs are kaamdaars, Navika scoffed, but Milind refuted it. 'Even Poonam Mahajan is a naamdaar then, why are you only talking of us alone?'
Overall, the exchange was evenly matched.
March of the shouting brigade
A quick detour to DD News for its show in Hindi, Do Took, showed how the negative influence of a free-for-all increasingly passes for a TV debate, with even the anchor here seeming to have modelled himself after the king of them all.
Thankfully, there were only three studio guests, with all of them speaking, make it yelling at the same time, and then the anchor taking his turn to yell at them.
Thankfully, Tamil news TV seems immune to this syndrome so far. DMK chief M K Stalin was addressing a rally, criticising the Election Commission for its 'one-sided' crackdown on illegal cash transfers in poll season, in the wake of the recovery of a huge stash from one of the party candidates's homes.
And Pon Radhakrishnan of the BJP was on another channel, castigating the use of money power, saying it was 'like buying cattle'.
By the time the next round of elections comes around, possibly they will both be on the same channel, shouting at each other, like how we do it in English.
The prime minister opens up
Just the other day I had pointed out, apropos Amit Shah's interview on air, that we will never know how he fared compared to his boss as the latter doesn't grant interviews, and woke up to Friday morning to the surprise announcement that Modi's interview was being telecast at 8 am.
An unusual time, as conventional TV wisdom has it that the best broadcasts make it to the prime time show at 9 pm. That ensured that you got the post-dinner audiences at home, as well as make it in time for the next day's newspapers.
Telecasting a major newsbreak like the prime minister's interview at 8 am meant you missed out on most of the office-going crowd, who would either be leaving home or getting ready to leave.
But there's an upside, too. The 8 am telecast got you the full day's online news cycle and social media discussions plus WhatsApp fwds, all of which would whet the viewers's appetite enough to catch the interview on its re-run during prime time in the evening, plus make it to the next day's newspapers.
A clever propagation strategy, indeed.
What the 75-minute interview with Modi told me was that now he is open to granting interviews. And in this connection let me offer our credentials for being considered in this election season.
Not many know that Modi and Rediff go back a long, long way.
Over the last two decades he has given us many interviews, the first being one in 1998, when he was a BJP general secretary.
Speaking to the veteran journalist V Gangadhar, Modi had said then, 'I am just a humble party worker. Nothing more than that.'
In the winter of 1998, before the Madhya Pradesh assembly election, the then BJP general secretary had spoken to my colleagues Archana Masih and Vaihayasi Pande Daniel, revealing his deep understanding of MP politics.
In July 2001, following the India-Pakistan summit, Modi revealed to my colleague Onkar Singh what then prime minister Vajpayee had told then Pakistan dictator Pervez Musharraf during their meeting in Agra.
Four years later, in August 2002, in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, Modi, then chief minister, granted a two-part interview: here and here to Sheela Bhatt, and here's an excerpt:
A few of your supporters think you are a potential candidate for the country's top post.
I never imagined that one day I would become chief minister. I am not the right man for this. I am a person who belongs to the organisation and the cadre. I am a person who would like to work behind the scenes.
On April 2, 2009, 10 years ago, when he was the charioteer behind prime ministerial candidate Advani, Modi had granted Nikhil Lakshman and me a three-part interview here, here and here in the CM's office in Gandhinagar.
Here's an excerpt:
If an opportunity is given, will you lead the nation?
I believe that the chief ministers of even the smallest Indian states are major instruments of powering the nation. And I, as a chief minister, am part of running the nation.
Will you deny that you have no ambition whatsoever to become the prime minister?
I have a mission, not ambition. I was not born to become something, I was born to do something.
I did not have a desire to become somebody when I was a child, I don't have it now, nor will I have it in the future.
I have a dream, to do something. I want to do something for the nation. I am part of the mission, not ambition.
Ambition doesn't inspire me, mission does.
Saying all this is to point out that while we have interviewed Modi many times -- you can see a complete list here -- we are yet to interview Prime Minister Modi, and hope that our roster of interviews burnishes our claim.
Since I began with L K Advani, let me end it with a short video from January 2009 of my question to him about what he thought of Modi as a potential prime minister, and Advani's answer. You can see it here.