How often our Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets the press? By now you must have seen a small video clip doing the round on social media. This has not happened in India. It has happened in Denmark the other day. While going for a meeting he found himself surrounded by a group of journalists and he was visibly caught unawares. The prime minister of India is known all over as a good orator. This is not only what his supporters say. This is also acknowledged by his opponents.

He very often addresses mass gatherings of thousands of people and mesmerized them with his speech. He is known as a strong man prime minister. Let us take a pause here and delve into the history of our prime ministers. We have got 15 prime ministers so far. Some of them were in office for more than one term. Prime Minister Modi himself is in his second term now. The strange thing is in his eight years in office Prime Minister Modi hasn’t addressed a single press conference. Media is considered to be the fourth pillar of democracy. Why Prime Minister Modi is so shy of talking to the press?

Here we should know a little why the media is called the fourth pillar of democracy. The legislature frames the laws either in the parliament or in the legislative assemblies. Then it is the responsibility of the executive means the government of the day to implement or execute the laws. Whether the legislature has framed the law by following due process and by adhering to the constitutional principles is examined by the judiciary. If the executive has not properly executed a law or if any flaws and loopholes in the implementation of any law or act are bought to the notice of the judiciary, it will take cognizance of them. 

 After going through the related things and hearing the arguments of the litigants and defendants and following the principles of law and constitutional provisions, the judiciary will come up with their verdicts. The government can also approach courts if some individual or a group of individuals come in its way while implementing any act or law. The duties and responsibilities of the legislature, executive, and judiciary are already fixed. All three organs of democracy are supposed to act independently with its autonomy.

Most importantly the judiciary must act independently. Here we may refer to a comment by noted jurist Fali S Nariman in his book “God Save The Hon’ble Supreme Court”. He said, “Disharmony between the government and the court is a different matter- if there were complete harmony between them, this country would not be worth living in”. So at time, the difference between the judiciary and the government is a healthy sign for democracy. Now comes the question of media.

Like the judiciary, the media should also keep a good distance from the government and maintain its autonomy. Why do we need press freedom and autonomy for the press? Who will monitor whether the legislature is framing laws and acts by adhering to the constitutional objectives, spirit and provisions? It is the responsibility of the judiciary and the press. The press will be able to discharge this responsibility if it remains free of the control of the government. The press must act as the watchdog of democracy. It must expose the wrong doings and inadequacies in the functioning of the government. There must not be any hobnobbing between the press and the government as there should not be any hobnobbing between the government and the members of the judiciary.

But for the public interest, the ministers and officials of the government should share necessary information with the press. The prime minister is the head of the executive. He is responsible for all the decisions of the government. Why is the government hyper active on certain issues and silent on others? What are the major shifts in foreign and economic policies and internal affairs of the country? The Prime Minister of the country should address the press occasionally on such and other details. He should take questions from the media and face its criticism. This is what is expected in a democracy. This is the norm.

If a policy is made on strong premises, it will not wither when it is exposed to criticism, rather it will be strengthened. That is why decentralization of power is a characteristic of democracy. That is why the judiciary and press should keep away from the government. It is not a healthy sign for our democracy that our Prime Minister has not addressed a single press conference in his eight years in office. It is no wonder that we are so low so far the index of press freedom is concerned.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com