Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power two years ago, packing lots of political baggage and, since then, some of his policies have divided Indians.

The fact that he is a good media performer helps, but his most recent move to declare more than 80 percent of Indian money in circulation illegal, in a stated effort to combat what's called "black money" has been difficult to spin.

A good deal of financial chaos ensued. So, Modi took to the airwaves and made it the subject of his latest 'Mann ki Baat' chat on the state-owned network, All India Radio, which is one of the world's largest and reaches more than 98 percent of India's 1.3 billion people.

He wants to bypass the press, so he is having a direct communication with the people of India.

Kingshuk Nag, Hyderabad resident editor, Times of India

The show's title, "Mann ki Baat," loosely translates to 'heart to heart'.

It's an old model. US President Franklin Roosevelt was doing his fireside chats in the 1930s, but this is the first time an Indian prime minister has chosen to speak to the nation regularly in this way.

Why has Modi chosen to speak to his people over the radio instead of television?

"Radio is a much more intimate media than television. Modi does give the impression that he is speaking to them almost individually. And, of course, for millions and millions of Indians, who are just used to politicians coming occasionally at time of elections, making promises and walking away again and never being seen again, here is this prime minister who appears to be talking to them individually," explains Mark Tully, former New Delhi Bureau chief of BBC India.

And that is bound to have an effect on millions of Indians who listen to it.

According to consulting editor for The Hoot, Shuma Raha, Prime Minister Modi "has this very sophisticated 360 degree direct to the people, so 'Mann ki Baat' fits into that beautifully".

However, not everyone is convinced that Modi, who has been notorious for avoiding the Indian news media, wants to directly engage with the people.

"He wants to bypass the press, so he is having a direct communication with the people of India ... He has not chosen the interview mode, because he's not trusting the press ... Don't forget, he is not trying to connect with the urban masses," says Kingshuk Nag, Hyderabad resident editor for the Times of India.

Adding on to those sentiments, Tully notes, " Modi is a one-man band. Nobody else counts. And therefore, as a one-man band, he is the only person who really speaks for the government, and he is the only person who is heard." 

To be heard across the country, every month, in a format he can control - access to huge audiences, without questions from pesky reporters, has been seen as a media masterstroke for Modi. But he still has to persuade those listening - especially in light of recent plans to demonetise the 500 and 100 rupee notes.

"Now, the question is, has he explained to the people why we want to go to [a] cashless society? And what happened to his earlier talk about doing away [with] black money? So this time, I don't think he did connect with a lot of people. Demonetisation has thrown everybody's life out of gear and this 'Mann ki Baat', I don't think had much resonance with a lot of people," says Kingshuk Nag.

Talking us through the story are: Madhuker Upadhyay, consultant, All India Radio; Mark Tully, former new delhi bureau chief, BBC India; Shuma Raha, consulting editor, The Hoot; and Kingshuk Nag, Hyderabad resident editor, Times of India. 

Source: Al Jazeera