Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attending his first press conference in five years on Friday, didn’t take a single question. He passed on the one question addressed to him to BJP president Amit Shah, calling himself a “disciplined soldier” of the party.
“No, no, not me. We don’t speak in front of the president,” the Prime Minister told a reporter at the press meet held just before the end of the national election campaign. PM Modi’s Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is one of the seats that will vote in the last round of the marathon election before the results are announced four days later.
In his opening remarks – the only time he spoke – PM Modi said that a government that had completed a five-year term would return with full majority after the election.
“It has not happened often in our country that a government with full majority returns once again with a majority,” he said to reporters at the BJP headquarters in Delhi.
PM Modi has been repeatedly criticised by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders for not addressing a single press conference since he took the top job.
But during his campaign, the Prime Minister gave a series of interviews on the sidelines of his rallies or at his home. Critics said the questions put to PM Modi were scripted, soft and even fawning.
Referring to his 2014 victory, PM Modi said “On May 16 the results came out. And on May 17 there was a big casualty. Those who were power-hungry and those into betting suffered a biggest loss.”
On the current campaign, he said the planning was “very detailed”.
After he ended his remarks, Amit Shah took questions from the media. “I have answered your question. It is not necessary for the PM to answer every question,” he firmly told a journalist.
When a second journalist said “my question is for the PM”, Amit Shah automatically started replying. The question was on Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s meetings to evolve a federal front. PM Modi gestured towards Amit Shah, who replied: “See, we are completely sure that we are going to win. These people don’t have any work on the campaign trail so they are meeting in drawing rooms.”
Rahul Gandhi held a press conference around the same time – also after wrapping up his campaign– which made for the rare sight of a split screen on TV channels, with the top leaders of the two main parties speaking to the media.
On the Prime Minister’s briefing, the Congress president said: “Very good, very good. So the prime minister of India addresses his first press conference in the last few days of his term… just before the results of the next election is due. PM Modi is “accompanying” Amit Shah in a press conference, which is an unprecedented event for him. Let me ask him a question right now – Mr PM, why did you not accept my challenge to debate on corruption in Rafale?
But on realising that PM Modi had not taken any questions, the Congress put out tweets mocking the BJP leadership.
“Congratulations Modi Ji. Excellent Press Conference! Showing up is half the battle. Next time Mr Shah may even allow you to answer a couple of questions. Well done,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi.