Modi interaction: fans wow, critics frown, children charmed

PM turns a controversy in his favour, leaves students gushing for most part

GN Bureau | September 5, 2014


Modi addressed schoolchildren at New Delhi`s Maneckshaw auditorium on the occasion of Teacher`s Day
Photo: PIB

If Rahul Gandhi still believes he is a ‘Young Turk’ with a natural connect with the youth, especially pre-teens, given his age, he should watch the recordings of prime minister Narendra Modi’s interaction with students on Friday afternoon. And he should watch it time and again.

For a shade over an hour, Modi charmed the children – not only those present in New Delhi’s Manekshaw auditorium, for they were obviously handpicked and, it appeared in several cases, the questions were not exactly spontaneous, but those watching on the television, if reports are to be believed. While school students may not have particularly taken a liking to the fact that they were ‘forced’ to spend longer hours at their schools to catch the PM’s speech and the subsequent interaction on TV sets at school, they certainly went home a shade more convinced that the PM, too, is an average Joe. Just like them.

From putting them at ease from the very beginning to the relaxed tone, tenor and temper of his speech and answers in the Q and A session, and right down to reliving some of his early days, the students, it seemed, were eating out of his hands. So despite the controversy over ‘hijacking’ the occasion of Teachers’ Day in the run-up to this afternoon’s event, with Smriti Irani’s HRD ministry’s apparent ham-handed handling of the whole affair, this was one PR exercise that went off quite successfully for Team Modi.

That full act – of setting the goalpost, scaling up the bar and then delivering the goals – for one is something other leaders have to learn from Modi.

Asked by a student whether he had, as a student, even dreamt of becoming the PM, Modi said, “I never fought any election in my class or university, so I had never thought I will be the PM. But I had  the dreams of doing and achieving something. I urge students to dream of doing something.”

Asked about his work style, the PM said, "I am a hard taskmaster. I do a lot of work myself and also get work done from others. If you are working for 12 hours then I am ready to work for 13 hours.” But the important bit was the three or four sentences were said not as harangue but in an easy manner that put the students at ease.

But there were some ‘ouch’ moments as well. Asked by a student from Assam about climate change, Modi said, "The climate has not changed – we have changed...our tolerance and habits have changed. If we change then God has built the system in such a way that it can balance on its own.”

Within seconds social media was flooded with barbs saying how Modi has redefined the very meaning of climate change, which is a real and present danger for the both the industrial and industrialising countries.

Stressing that “educating girls is my priority," Modi referred to his Independence Day address in which he talked about providing toilets in every school. That, he stressed, was aimed at curbing dropout among girl students: "I have noticed that girls drop out of schools by the time they reach class 3 or 4 just because schools don't have separate toilets for them. They don't feel comfortable. There should be toilets for boys and girls in all schools. We should concentrate on girl students not quitting schools.”

Well, not exactly, for half of rural India – and much of semi-urban and even urban India – does not have toilets for women. They do not drop out of home or the society for that. So, if Rahul Gandhi is watching that recording, he should do well to remember that toilets for women is a very vital issue, and it should be treated thus – not in an offhand manner.

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