It is rare for Narendra Modi to directly answer live press questions during nearly a decade in power. So when the Indian prime minister answered two questions from reporters at a White House press event with Mr Biden on Thursday, it was a remarkable moment.
From the start of his tenure, Mr Modi and his staff have been fastidious in controlling his message and trying to control the media in general. While he loves speeches at public events and has used his monthly radio show as a way to get messages across to the nation, any exposure to unscripted events was a rarity before the White House event, and likely will be again after.
Mr Modi’s aides claim that social media, which controls his party’s vast communication apparatus, has made press conferences obsolete. And other branches of government deal with reporters.
Modi’s recoil from media involvement dates back to his days as chief minister of Gujarat decades ago. Under his tutelage, the state erupted into widespread riots in 2002, and Mr Modi was accused of looking away from — or even enabling — Hindu gangs who staged deadly rampages in Muslim neighborhoods.
Mr Modi had long denied any wrongdoing. But he has also publicly said that his biggest failure at the time was his inability to control the media – something he has striven diligently ever since.
By dangling the incentives of government advertising and employing the pressure tactics of tax raids and arrests, he has so manipulated large swathes of India’s media, especially the broadcast media, that most outlets are limited to dispensing his official line .
In 2015, Mr Modi answered a number of questions during a joint press conference with President Barack Obama. In recent years, he may have come closest to participating in a formal press conference on the day of his re-election in 2019, where he appeared on stage for one time. But even then, he only made an opening statement. Who answered the actual questions? His right-hand man, Amit Shah, who is now the powerful Home Secretary of India.