Indian Leader’s School Visit Draws Fire
NEW DELHI — 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. The event provoked accusations from Mr. Modi’s opponents that it betrayed the heavy-handedness of his government.
The frantic planning began immediately once Mr. 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 one million students watched the program at their schools in Delhi alone, a representative of the Directorate of Education, which monitored the program’s attendance, told The Press Trust of India.
Mr. 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 very 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,” he said.
One child asked him 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 quickly added.
A letter from Delhi’s Directorate of Education issued last week came with a list of arrangements to be made for the broadcast. The start of the school day was moved to 1 p.m. and heads of schools were directed to “make available” televisions, projectors and equipment that could be used in case of an electricity shortages. “Any laxity in the arrangements shall be viewed seriously,” wrote Padmini Singla, director of education for Delhi’s schools.
In an open letter to Mr. Modi in The Indian Express newspaper, Yogendra Yadav, a spokesman for the Aam Aadmi Party, complained about the changes the broadcast caused at his own daughter’s school.
He wrote that his daughter had no objection to listening to Mr. Modi, but “what she doesn’t understand is why she could not do so on TV at home.”
“It’s a free country, she says, why can’t I have a choice?”
One student remarked that people say Mr. Modi is like a “headmaster,” but that he appeared to her to be a kind man. “What kind of person are you?” she asked.
“I am a taskmaster,” Mr. Modi replied.
The Rev. Babu Varghese, the 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 that representatives from the Directorate of Education had told teachers that it was “compulsory.”
At Don Bosco, hundreds of students were corralled into a cramped Indian Leader’s School Visit Draws Fire - NYTimes.com: