NEW DELHI — For the first time since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a press conference in New Delhi on Friday.
In his opening remarks, Modi, speaking at the closure of the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign, said that he was confident of BJP winning a second consecutive term.
BJP party president Amit Shah said that the ruling party would return to power with a majority of 300 seats in Lok Sabha and that Modi would be PM for another five years.
For almost an hour, Modi sat next to Shah, but he did not take any questions from reporters present at the press conference.
When one reporter attempted to ask the prime minister a question, Modi responded by saying that he was an “disciplined soldier” of the party, while Shah continued to field all the questions.
The question was whether Modi would keep Pragya Thakur, BJP’s candidate from Bhopal, and an accused in the 2008 Malegaon Blast case, in the party or would he show her the door.
A journalist, who was present at the BJP party headquarters in New Delhi, told HuffPost India that the BJP had informed the media that the press conference would be addressed by Shah on 17 May, and that Modi would speak to party workers on a different floor of the building.
But in the afternoon today, this journalist said, a party member told some reporters that Modi would also attend Shah’s press conference.
Another journalist, who was present at the press conference, told HuffPost India, “There were SPG personnel around checking journalists before entering the party office building. That made us think that Modi was coming as well.”
When the time came for the question and answer session, this journalist said, BJP national media head Anil Baluni told reporters to direct their questions at Shah.
While Modi has given interviews in the course of his tenure, these interactions are widely regarded as soft and scripted. The PM has been criticized for not taking spontaneous and harder questions at a press conference.
In the course of the press conference on Friday, Shah said that the BJP has distanced itself from statements made by Ananth Kumar Hegde, Pragya Thakur and Nalin Kumar Kateel in support of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, and that the party’s disciplinary committee would question them and submit a report within ten days.
In response to a question about the bitter electoral contest in Bengal, Shah said that 80 BJP workers have been killed in the past one-and-a-half years in the state governed by Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress (TMC).
(Editor’s note: This copy is being updated).