Psst! A national secret is out: the fault lay with a “tech” glitch, not the life-saving teleprompter.
Several explanations have come up on why Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly stopped speaking while addressing the World Economic Forum on Monday evening. They ranged from the English translation initially not working to a miscue that led Modi to start his speech before the live-streaming had begun.
The fact-checking website AltNews concluded that the “interruption was because of a technical glitch, and not a teleprompter snafu”.
Unwittingly or otherwise, the sounds of the Prime Minister’s silence did offer certain insights or reaffirmed some characteristics that mark the ecosystem that has been built around him. Here are some of the takeaways that caught the naked eye, untrammelled by “tech” glitches:
Script, script and script: As in movies, so in political kitsch. Whatever led the Prime Minister to stop speaking, it was unmistakable that Modi froze for around 10 seconds and he looked flustered.
Technical glitches are not uncommon, especially in the pandemic-induced age of videoconference apps. To appear at a loss for words when higher powers like data packs act up is human.
It is OK for humans, but not for Supermen who brag about their chest measurement (56 inches, did anyone say? After the Chinese atrocity in Galwan, such statistical preening has been given a break) and cast themselves as Great Communicators and Vishwagurus always spoiling to teach the world a lesson or two — unsolicited, of course.
He who thrives by hyperbole falls by a “tech glitch”.
A minor change in the script threw Modi off balance. Oration is made of sterner stuff. Mark Antony did pause but that was for his heart to come back from Caesar’s coffin. Modi did not pause to move the stones of Davos to rise and mutiny but apparently at the bidding of his tech support team.
When he recovered his wits, he fluffed his lines. He could not get right the full name of WEF executive chairman Klaus Schwab — for the charitable, it sounded like “Klaus saab”, for others it was a jumble of unintelligible letters.
A confident leader could easily have explained then and there what happened and moved on. Thinking on the feet is not such a tough ask.
Using a teleprompter is no crime if it helps stick to schedules and stay close to the topic. It was part of an essential kit for many US Presidents, including Barack Obama who is considered an orator.
Glitches are also not unknown but such issues are usually addressed with finesse and transparency. When Ronald Reagan’s teleprompter had malfunctioned in 1985, he adlibbed and the White House later handled the issue with ease by saying “it is our opinion that the President spoke eloquently”.
Could this — the fear of the unscripted — be the reason that has prevented Modi from addressing a full-fledged media conference where he took questions after he became Prime Minister nearly eight years ago?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ on the screen.
Modi can himself answer the question by calling a media conference — an essential feature of an unscripted democracy — as early as today.
Touch me not: The Modi ecosystem remains thin-skinned even after spending so many years in power. Any suggestion of weakness, any attempt at ribbing or lampooning — again indispensable ingredients of a democracy — unleashes a response that looks so scripted that it puts the fawning flunkies of North Korea to shame.
Consider the response to the social media storm poking fun at Modi’s 10-second freeze: there was no official statement on what happened but an invasion of the clones.
BJP leaders and fellow-travellers crawled out of the woodwork on Tuesday and tweeted identical statements. “Don’t those getting excited at the tech glitch not realise that the problem was at WEF’s end? They were not able to patch PM, so requested him to start again, which is evident in the way Klaus Schwab said that he will again give a short introduction and then open up the session…,” the tweet said.
Among those who issued the cloned message were BJP Scheduled Tribe Morcha national social media in-charge Dhaval Patel, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha national secretary Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, its Bengal president Indranil Khan and Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s media adviser Shalabh Mani Tripathi.
Great minds think alike, greater minds tweet alike.
No fear: The most striking feature was the avalanche of ridicule that was heaped on Modi by the citizens — without being prompted.
In spite of the invocation of sedition and anti-terror laws at the drop of a hat and crackdowns on critics, not to mention a pliable media, common people did not shy from throwing a punch when they could.
A killer tweet: “Today 140 crore people of India came to know that why Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not holding press conference for 8 years.”
Tech glitch or teleprompter trouble, that cloud still hangs heavy.