6.30 am: Drive into the home of Gujarat Chief Minister
and Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate
Narendra Modi. There are peacocks ambling in the small
verdant garden, koels cooing in the trees. A small batch of
very courteous policemen, who don’t even check our ids,
wave our cars in.
I am a bit uncomfortable. Isn’t this man very high on the
hit list of terror groups? Why this chivalrous trust? I am
used to the rude, unforgiving checks by the Special
Protection Group. But then our equipment is checked thoroughly. Metal detectors and body frisking and we are ushered in, into the house. Very professional.
6.40 am: The foyer has five feet tall-seated Buddha made
of wood. Mentally thinking... the so-called ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ leader does not have pictures, portraits or sculptures of Shivaji or Hanuman or Ganesh at the place where
he meets guests. No photographs or paintings of ‘the
The room where we are seated and offered tea or coffee is
Spartan. Tacky plastic flowers in a planter, the smell of
phenyl, a man is swabbing the floor, no incense or sign of
any ostentation or religious symbolism as yet. As you can
guess, I am a disbeliever; I have my scanners on... cleverly
trying to find any signs of megalomania that Modi is
6.50 am: I ask for coffee, not for any symbolic reason, I
just don’t drink tea. (Modi’s oft-repeated claim that he still
has the simplicity of a tea vendor has become a mantra for
his followers). I am holding fast to my desire to be as neutral as possible in the interview. My questions are beyond
the riots of 2002, beyond Hindutva and beyond hate
The interview is not for ratings; I don’t work for a channel. It is not going to be one-upmanship because my subscribers will probably edit out my face anyway (later saw to
my surprise that my questions were not edited out).
The interview has to cater to ANI’s clients in the south;
there are more television channels in the south than the
north. The questions have to be a mix of domestic political
for local clients and international policy based for ANI’s
foreign clients. There are many tugs and pulls going on in
7.00 am: Two of Modi’s aides walk in, a little chit-chat
about elections and we get straight to the point. What
would the theme of the interview be? I tell them knowing
fully well they expect me to not back down on anything. My
last conversation with Modi was in 2011; I have been waiting for an interview since then. But I don’t tell them this.
I just discuss some of the questions, they don’t draw any
Laxman Rekhas (lines not to cross, a reference to an episode
in the Ramayana). I also know they will not have any time
to brief Modi because we are about to start filming, Modi is
on the way.
7.20 am: I check the set. It is bare minimum, two ordinary chairs, and one prop of a statue of Vivekananda and
some potted plants. The floor tiles are clean and white. My
mind immediately goes to a recent interview that I had
done of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
Glistening Italian marble, walls pasted with pictures of
Mulayam Singh Yadav, installations of cycles (his party’s
This room too like others is bare. Nothing on the walls,
not even a carpet. We make a request to bring one from
somewhere in the house. In my mind I am thinking, if he
becomes prime minister, this man is going to turn 7 Race
Course Road (the PM’s official residence) into a monastery
at this rate!
A cameraman from the Gujarat information ministry sets
up his camera alongside ours. All the chief minister’s inter-
views are recorded by his government department too.
Excellent. I am impressed. I recall advising a former prime
minister about this, many years ago. All chief ministers
have huge information departments and yet such a basic
thing as recording media interviews is not done. IAS offi-
cers sit in the room, taking notes!
7.50 am: Modi arrives without any fanfare. Alone, no
chamchas, no hangers-on, no attendants. We are ushered
into his office and exchange pleasantries. The first thing
that catches my eye is the color of his kurta and jacket. It is
a combination of orange and green. I wonder if I should tell
him to change. The colors look very bold for television, but
I hold my tongue.
Waiting for him to tell me not to go beyond 20 minutes
or half hour, to tell me how he is very busy with campaign-
ing, to tell me how he has rejected x-y-z journalist and
granted an interview to me, in other words make me feel
small, indebted... all tactics used by other powerful politi-
cians to set the mood for an interview. He does none of
that. He does not lay down any dos and don’ts.
8.00 am: We climb up the stairs to the conference room
where the set is, nobody holds doors open for him, no ele-
vator, no perfuming the area for ‘Netaji’. And this happens
for chief ministers and prime ministers. I have interviewed
several of them to see how their staff makes their sur-
roundings very pretty and pleasing.
A glass of warm water has been placed before the chief
minister... the strain on his voice because of a marathon
number of rallies he has addressed, makes me wonder
whether he will be able to go on for more than 30 minutes.
No box of tissues to wipe the sweat off his forehead as the
air-conditioning has been switched off for the shoot. Either
his staff is not used to television shoots or else they have
been instructed not to pamper their boss.
Seventy minutes later we are done
with the interview. Modi does not ask me ‘Kab chalaoge
(when will you air it)? Kahaan chalogey (where will you
air it)? Yeh edit kar do (edit this). Voh kyun poocha ( why
did you ask that)?’ No orders, no requests.
I am quite uncomfortable. This is not what I expected.
But then I smile to myself. In a way I know I am right. The
best interviews are the unscripted ones.
Smita Prakash is editor, News, Asian News International.
no fuss, all business
Smita Prakash recalls the behind-the-scenes action during her recent television interview with Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi in his Spartan office. REUTERS/ANI