By now, it is well known that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is more comfortable delivering monologues than engaging in conversations. As a result, he has tried to avoid press conferences and public interactions with other politicians.
Increasingly, his aversion for genuine interaction seems to be becoming apparent even in closed-door meetings with party leaders.
At the very least, this was the case when Modi met Lok Sabha members from Maharashtra on Tuesday, and Bihar and Chhattisgarh, on Wednesday, according to some people present at the events at the prime minister’s residence at 7, Race Course Road.
On both the occasions, the seating arrangement was the same. Modi occupied the lone chair on a raised platform, with the MPs comforting themselves in chairs placed on the floor in front of him, according to five BJP MPs who spoke to media.
The most striking thing was Modi’s question to both sets of MPs: “How many of you interact with media? Raise your hands.” On both days, most MPs raised their hands, said the BJP leaders.
“For a while he did not say anything. He just looked at us as if we were committing a crime,” said one of the MPs, who did not understandably wish to be named. “Then Modiji ordered: ‘Nothing that we discuss in the meeting should go out.’”
No one raised a voice in disagreement. Yet, when asked how the meetings had gone, many of the MPs appeared eager to vent their anger. “Modiji is not merely aware of his reputation,” said an MP from Maharashtra. “He actively promotes it.”
This has become a sore point with many MPs. “While we were told that the purpose of this meeting was to give us an opportunity to interact with the prime minister, what happened in reality was just the opposite,” said an MP from Bihar. “There was hardly any interaction. Modiji began the meeting with this query on the media and then told us to ask questions and describe problems in our respective constituencies.”
But even before one MP could finish, Modi “turned his face towards someone else, prompting that MP to start speaking”, the Bihar MP continued. “This way, the meeting ended up generating only incomplete questions. Then, instead of replying to any of the questions, he told us it was important for us to promote the reputation of the government in the eyes of the people. Thereafter, he declared that the meeting was over.”
The BJP MPs from Maharashtra had a similar experience, except that Modi also instructed them to do their best to ensure a victory for the party in the upcoming assembly election in the state.
Most of the MPs found these sessions unproductive. “Most of us could not comprehend why the meeting was called at all,” said a BJP MP from Maharashtra.
To these MPs, Modi has become a source of both amusement and fear. “In the meeting, he kept nodding all the time as if he comprehended every word being uttered in that chaotic atmosphere,” said a BJP MP. “A smile never left his face even as we felt frustrated at not being able to communicate with him.”
To be fair to Modi, he could well be facing a problem of plenty. The BJP has 280 MPs in the Lok Sabha. Meeting all of them individually would take a lot of time. Modi has, therefore, started meeting them in groups, state-wise. Before these two meetings, he had held meetings with MPs from Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. He has been meeting party MPs almost daily and is likely to finish this exercise by the end of the month.
But even accounting for Modi’s workload, because of his desire for full control and his inability to listen attentively, he risks alienating his own party’s leaders.