India’s Modi pilots live radio show to reach the masses

 India’s Modi pilots live radio show to reach the masses
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech from the Red Fort to mark the country's 68th Independence Day in New Delhi on August 15, 2014.

NEW DELHI - India's Twitter-savvy Prime Minister Narendra Modi is turning to the country's oldest radio station to make his voice heard even in the farthest Himalayan hamlets and most distant deserts.

On Oct. 3, Modi will go live on public service All India Radio (AIR) from New Delhi for about 50 minutes, in a pilot of a show he hopes will become a weekly opportunity to reach up to two-thirds of India's 1.2 billion people.

The maiden radio broadcast, announced on the website mygov.in, will be quickly translated into 24 Indian languages and 16 foreign ones.

"We are still working on how to get everything arranged," said a senior official at the radio station known for news broadcasts delivered in a cut-glass English accent.

"None of the prime ministers in the last three decades have used our services in this manner."

Although eclipsed in recent years by satellite television, radio is still the main source of news and information for many Indians, particularly in rural areas.

Modi has assiduously used Facebook and Twitter, where he has about 6.4 million followers, to bypass the news media and communicate his thoughts, spurring editors to complain about a lack of two-way communication and debate.

Since taking office in May, the 64-year old leader has cut back on access for India's lively commercial news media, and stepped up the role of state television broadcaster Doordarshan in getting his message heard.

Indira Gandhi, prime minister for four terms spanning the late sixties until her assassination in 1984, was the last leader to have regularly used AIR to talk to the nation.

Many Indians say Modi is the first prime minister since Gandhi to use charisma and communication skills to carve out a more personalized leadership role.

Officials at India's broadcast ministry said Modi was keen to turn the radio address into an interactive session soon and would like to take questions from citizens.

Modi made an interactive broadcast on Teachers' Day this month that was viewed in schools nationwide.

Hundreds of AIR employees across India will monitor Modi's first address to avoid glitches in the live broadcast, variously dubbed "Ghar Ghar mein Modi" ("Modi in Every Home") or "PM jan jan ke saath" ("The Prime Minister is with Everyone").

Modi's clear diction in Hindi would make him ideal for radio, said one AIR journalist who asked not to be identified.

AIR is the only radio station India permits to broadcast news.

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