Sun, Sep 07, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Indian PM broadcasts to children

NY Times News Service, NEW DELHI

Indian schoolchildren crowd around a radio as they listen to a broadcast by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering his Teachers’ Day speech at a municipal primary school at Bakshi Kala Daraganj in Allahabad, India, on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday appeared before millions of India’s schoolchildren, answering respectful questions with an avuncular twinkle for an hour and a half and telling stories about his own school days.

Yet behind the seeming informality of the format was an elaborate, labor-intensive operation that had been put together in barely a week. Modi’s opponents said the event betrayed the heavy-handedness of his government.

The frantic planning began once Modi’s aides made clear late last month that they wanted gatherings of students in every state for a broadcast to mark the annual Teachers’ Day.

More than 1 million students watched the program at their schools in Delhi alone, a representative of the Directorate of Education, which monitored the attendance, told The Press Trust of India.

Modi has had few encounters with reporters since becoming prime minister and has instructed top government officials to avoid journalists, but he seemed to enjoy the session with the students.

Speaking without notes, he made a brief speech before about 700 children at the Manekshaw Convention Center in Delhi before taking questions, first from students in the auditorium, then from others by satellite, including from remote parts of India.

He advised one boy with political ambitions to start preparing for the 2024 elections.

“Till then, I do not have any threat,” the prime minister said.

One child asked Modi if he had ever played pranks as a schoolboy.

“When two people stood, whoever the two people were, ladies or gentlemen, we would hold their clothes together and staple them, then run away,” he said, amid laughter.

“But promise me you would not do this to anyone,” he added.

A letter from Delhi’s Education Directorate last week came with a list of arrangements to be made for the broadcast. The start of the school day was moved to 1pm and heads of schools were directed to “make available” televisions, projectors and other equipment.

“Any laxity in the arrangements shall be viewed seriously,” Delhi Director of Education Padmini Singla wrote.

In an open letter to Modi in the Indian Express newspaper, Yogendra Yadav, a spokesman for the Aam Aadmi Party, complained about the changes the broadcast caused at his daughter’s school.

He wrote that his daughter had no objection to listening to Modi, but “what she doesn’t understand is why she could not do so on TV at home.”

Babu Varghese, principal of the Don Bosco School, a Roman Catholic boys’ school in South Delhi, complained about the short notice for coordinating the session. He said representatives from the Education Directorate had told teachers that it was “compulsory.”

At Don Bosco, hundreds of students were corralled into a cramped auditorium, teachers hissing at them to be quiet during the prime minister’s speech.

However, afterward, some students said they were impressed.

Mrigank Chaturvedi, 17, said Modi was surprisingly engaging.

“I would not have been able to sit through it had it been [former Indian prime minister] Manmohan Singh,” he said.

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