May 18, 2019 / 2:42 AM / in 2 days

At his first news conference in India, PM Modi declines questions

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in power for five years, attended his first news conference ever in India on Friday but took no questions, prompting taunts from journalists and from opposition parties seeking to oust him in an election that ends on Sunday.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to file his nomination papers for the general elections in Varanasi, India April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Modi, one of India’s most gifted political orators, has never addressed a news conference in India, though he has given many one-on-one interviews to local media and once took questions from reporters in London in 2015.

In the impromptu news conference called by Amit Shah, president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi said he was confident of securing a second term when results of the staggered 39-day national election are announced on May 23.

India’s general election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise involving almost 900 million voters, ends on Sunday with polling in 59 parliamentary seats across eight states.

“I believe this is the first time in a long time that a majority government is winning a second term with a majority,” Modi said, as campaigning ended. “It’s a big thing.”

When a journalist asked him a question, the 68-year old prime minister directed her to Shah, saying: “I am a disciplined soldier (of the party), the president is everything to me.”

India’s main opposition Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, mocked Modi for avoiding questions at his news conference.

“Congratulations Modi Ji. Excellent press conference!” tweeted Gandhi, whose simultaneous press conference was carried on split TV screens but put on mute by most news channels. He used an honorific for Modi.

“Showing up is half the battle. Next time Mr Shah may even allow you to answer a couple of questions.”

Rajdeep Sardesai, one of India’s best-known broadcast journalists, said: “Today, a press conference became a press appearance!”

Reporting by Aftab Ahmed, Devjyot Ghoshal and Neha Dasgupta; Editing by Krishna N. Das and Gareth Jones

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