The Camera Frame, Long an Ally, Finally Betrays Narendra Modi

A number of claims Modi made in a recent TV interview – now shown to be scripted – have led to discussions on their veracity.

New Delhi: After facing flak for refusing to hold a single press conference in the past five years, Narendra Modi is ending his prime ministerial tenure with a spate of interviews in an attempt to demonstrate that he is not afraid of the media.

Even though these interviews have been tame – leading to accusations of the questions being scripted and shared in advance – they are shot in such a way as to create the impression of casual, spontaneous interactions. Sometimes, however, the camera can betray its hero.

In Modi’s most recent interview, News Nation anchor Deepak Chaurasia says he wants to ask “Narendra Modi, the poet” whether he has written any poems in the past five years. Modi gestures for a file and says he had written a poem that very morning, on the road from Himachal Pradesh. As he goes through the file, the camera zooms in on a sheet of paper on which the poem is written. But unfortunately for Modi, the frame captures a line written just above, which says:

27: At the end, I would like to ask Narendra Modi, the poet, whether he has written any poetry in the past five years?

The spectre of scripting had been raised after his interviews with ANI and ABP News, as none of them involved any cross-questioning. But here for the first time was concrete evidence of a prime ministerial interview actually having been scripted. Modi had clearly been primed in advance about the question – presumably all questions, since this was numbered ‘27’ – and he had come prepared with a typed-out poem.

The Congress party’s Divya Spandana pointed out the extent of the scripting involved, saying, “Now you know why no press conference or debate with Rahul Gandhi.”

Despite being scripted, it is curious that Modi ad libbed an answer on Balakot, saying that he had encouraged the Indian Air Force to conduct the airstrikes in the belief that cloud cover could hamper Pakistan’s radar. He said, “I am not a person who knows knows all of science, but I said that there is so much cloud cover and rain, which could be advantageous in escaping from radar.”

As experts have noted  this is not how radar works and he has been severely criticised for the error on social media. The BJP’s official social media handle proceeded to delete their tweet featuring it shortly after.

Modi also said in this interview, that he first used email in 1988 to transmit an image he took with a digital camera of L.K. Advani to Delhi, where the next day the colour photograph was printed.

His claims have led to spirited discussions on social media about their likely veracity.

Also read: Modi Is Everything That Your Parents Taught You Not to Be

The Nikon QV1000C was Nikon’s first electronic camera and announced in August 1988, and featured a ‘QV-1010T transmitter unit’ which would be similar to the box-shape that Modi made with his hands while describing the incident. In 1991, the US list price was $20,300. One wonders how a man who says (in the same interview) that he was too poor to carry a wallet was able to afford such a camera.

The Nikon NT-1000 Direct Transmitter was also released in 1983, with a similar boxy design and was a wirephoto transmitter which could send photographs though telephone lines and had been designed for the press. Through 1985 and 1987, most UK media houses purchased these devices, but only two were sold in North America, according to Alan Bartlett who founded Nikon’s European digital imaging division in 1988. There is no public data on whether the machine was available in India.

However, what is definitely doubtful is whether or not Modi had access to email. Email was technically available in India at the time, though the internet became publicly available in 1995. ERNET was an information sharing system that was available in 1986, with the first emails exchanged between the National Centre for Software Technology, Bombay and IIT Bombay. Between 1987 and 1988, email exchanges took place between ERNET institutions in metros, and with affiliated teams in Amsterdam and the US.

Even if the prime minister’s words were a slip of the tongue rather than self-aggrandising and easily disproved manipulation of the truth, the fact remains that if it is to be taken as fact, it throws up more perplexing questions. How did he access a modem in 1988 in Gujarat? How did he get the images from camera to computer? Neither of the camera options mentioned here were in any way cheap – how did he come to be in possession of these specialised, expensive rarities? And to what major daily did the prime minister send his photograph that was able to receive, download and print it on the same day?