The first thing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did after assuming office was to circulate a note among his Cabinet Ministers informing them that if he desires he can call for any files of their department which concern policy matters. He also made it clear to them that he can summon any of their secretaries to discuss matters related to the ministry concerned.
On the very first day of his assuming charge, the Prime Minister told his Cabinet colleagues to be punctual in attending their offices. The Ministers obeyed the PM and, some overzealous ones even punished their latecomer staff by compelling them to mark as absent on leave. The move was widely appreciated by the media. “PM means business.”
Boss is always right
The new PM was replicating in the national Capital what he had introduced and perfected in the State Capital over the last 12 years as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Ministers in Gujarat had learned the hard way what the boss wanted – complete surrender to his wishes. The old dictum “Boss is always right” was followed by them in letter and the last ‘t’ of spirit.
That Government is a Mega Corp has been the overriding principle of Modi’s rule in Gujarat. Modi acted like the chairman and managing director of a large company in which Cabinet Ministers are directors who signed on the dotted lines. No file of any department moved without the CM’s approval. Even the transfer and posting of officials had to be cleared by him.
Another feature of the ‘Gujarat model’ of governance introduced by Modi at the Centre is the denial of freedom to the Ministers to speak to journalists. In Gujarat, only one Minister was designated by him as the spokesman of the government who briefed the media on business transacted at Cabinet meetings. Modi avoided journalists and would address press conferences in the manner of addressing a public meeting, leaving no scope for asking him questions.
In Gujarat, secretaries to the government too were out of bounds for journalists. A Central console kept in the Chief Minister’s office monitored the movement of all visitors to the State Secretariat. All information to the media was vetted by the State’s Directorate of Public Relations or communicated through a professional PR agency hired by the government.
The Union government, under Modi, appears to be following the same PR strategy. Unlike his predecessors, Modi has not yet appointed a media adviser. A retired official of the Gujarat government, who used to handle the PR of the Chief Minister, has been retained by Modi to keep inquisitive journalists at bay.
Having effectively used social media and the latest information communication technology like 3 D telecast using hologram in his election campaign, Modi seems to believe in the efficacy of one-way communication. He has instructed his Ministers to start using social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the world at large. A virtual interface is safer than meeting people face-to-face seems to be the thumb rule.
This has made the task of journalists as a watchdog much more challenging.
( Moderator’s note: This is entirely the personal opinion of the writer. )