The other aspect of NaMo is his personal background that has shaped him. Coming from a non-privileged upbringing unlike some others with public school backgrounds, he has worked hard in the highly business oriented Gujarat environment. He is very proud of his humble upbringing and wears it on his sleeve, proudly displaying it at all opportunities.
That has given him two significant advantages, firstly a steady focus on the goals. So no matter what happens on the periphery he is like Arjun, the Mahabharat character, who does not take his eye off the ball (eyeball). Every question that is asked is replied in this context.
Even the silences are in the same context as has been evident on numerous occasions when his team members created some embarrassing situations that he has handled through his silence. On that front he has behaved almost like PV Narsimha Rao. He realizes that the moment he starts reacting to these backdated subjects, the focus would be diluted, and attention would be taken off the ball, the national narrative would change forever, something that he steadfastly avoids.
The second benefit of growing up in Gujarat, working on the tea business, sharpened his unique selling skills which are native to most Gujaratis but he seems to be abundantly bestowed. He does not miss a single opportunity to talk about the great work he and his team has done in the past two years.
“It was even being said that the letter ‘I’ might have to be dropped from BRICS (the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Now, the faith has been restored – there
is pace in governance, economic progress and global pride. You can see this,” from his interview to HT in Apr -2015 within ten months of being the PM.”
A year later, sometime in 2016, the World Bank had recategorized India as a Low Middle Income Group instead of developing. Only India had dropped down from the BRICs, Now we were in the company of Bangladesh rather than Brazil.
No doubt that we have a lot to talk about in terms of achievement in the last two years which he does not hesitate to package it so well that most often even hyperbole is lapped up. But sometimes even the real achievements get questioned.
In the general elections of 2014 he sold the development model of Gujarat to the entire country, and now he is selling the softer aspect of India on the global stage. Concepts like yoga and the glorious culture are generously interspersed in his monologues and sometimes also in dialogues.
The cultural aspect mainly comes from his early association with the RSS. Some of it also comes from his family, as is well known he shares a very positive relationship with his mother. At the same time, his relationship with his wife is rarely talked about, as if she exists only in shadows. With no immediate family, he tends to draw support from his political family, rightly called the Pariwaar.
Most of his education has happened in the shakha, for there is very little academics to talk about, as the recent controversy over his academic degrees had hit the country. Invariably the Finance Minister and the Party President had to call a press conference and wave his degrees like a proud parent would have rather not done. He has travelled a lot across the country which helps him connect with people wherever he goes. In a way he is much more educated than some other leaders who flaunt their college degrees.
When NaMo landed in America in June-2016, these contradictions followed him, as he got mixed press welcome. An article published in NY Times News Services (reproduced in BS dated 07.06) paid him huge left handed compliments, like,
“Modi by contrast, spent much of his life rising through the ranks of the RSS, a right wing paramilitary organization that campaigns forcefully for India’s Hindu majority. Modi was in charge of the state of Gujarat when rioting in 2002 cost the lives of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. Just last week, 24 people were convicted of massacring Muslims during the riots and pending cases are attempting to prove that Modi, who so far escaped judicial censure was part of a high level conspiracy to encourage the killings.” It continues, “perhaps just as troubling Modi’s government has increasingly used the country’s broad and vague laws restricting free speech to stifle dissent, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch. Other laws have been used to intimidate and even shut down non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace.”
Action had been initiated against some prominent high profile American NGOs operating in India. He was aware that beyond the general welcome accorded to him there were critics lurking around. Inspite of such criticism, NaMo went about his business like a yogi with some out of the box initiatives like making a visit to the Arlington cemetery in DC. He went about his business of making more friends to prepare for a post Barack Obama America, to ensure that there is some more chemistry left after the chemical reaction with his friend Barack is over. He appears to have got us back into the NSG, a group incidentally was founded as a consequence of India’s nuclear tests in 1974.
His speech to the Congress, again it was a monologue and not a dialogue, was splendid. NaMo has never ever gone wrong on speeches. Whatever be the occasion, venue or subject, he always gets a BIG applause. The writer had drafted a statesman-esque speech and the orator that he is, NaMo delivered it with his own special touch.
There were many positive parts of his speech addressed to different constituencies. Like his emphasis on the Constitution of India was very clearly addressed to the concerns on the USICRF findings, or his remarks on Afghanistan and terrorism and on the climate aspect. I think on the whole the Congress may have regretted not having him earlier.
It was after the disastrous interview with WSJ less than a month back, an interview which must have been read, reread and analysed threadbare by the same audience before coming for his speech. That is how his performance changes between a dialogue and a monologue. He controls the monologue, as he gets to speak on what he likes to talk about. In a dialogue like that with the WSJ, he has to talk about uncomfortable things, like reforms, PSU, exit policy, where he ends up giving answers which an Indian audience, say a gathering of PSU employees, may have loved but an institution like WSJ would not.
When we compare with the past speakers at the US Congress, I think Rajiv Gandhi had a better speech writer, but his oratory was nothing compared to NaMo who excelled inspite of his accented language. On oratory, alone of course Atal’s speech was better, but NaMo also brings a certain warmth in his voice, a certain honesty that he engages with the audience. I won’t read much in the eight standing ovations that NaMo got, as the previous speakers had also received similar standing ovations. It is a Congress tradition.
The same NY Times reported on the speech,
“Mr. Modi was the fifth Indian prime minister to address Congress, and the appearance represents a turnaround in his acceptance within the US. For years Mr. Modi was barred from getting a visa to come here because of his role in 2002 riots in the Indian state of Gujarat that cost the lives of more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. But as he rose as a national political figure in India, United States diplomats sought to put that difficult history to rest.”
Washington Post was not much different in its coverage, “Modi’s 46 minute speech followed years of being shunned in the US because of religious violence in his home state.” It continued with its analysis, “He did not address congressional concerns about his government’s record on religious tolerance and other rights issues.”
Some of Congressmen were quoted as,
“I wish there had been an emphasis on cooperating with the U.S. and every other democracy on combating all human rights abuses, especially human trafficking and slavery,” said Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey.
The past would continue to haunt and we will need to work harder to get the monkey off our back. The contradictions continued. For on the day our Prime Minister made history in US, repositioning himself as a global statesman what was happening back home was shameful.
So we have this picture of our PM standing in front of the Congress extolling on the freedom of
expression, something which is very close to the American hearts, and back home, for whole day, the nation discussed one more stab in our democracy. The man his government had appointed to control Bollywood had not just stifled a film maker, but had daggered the same Freedom of Expression that NaMo talked about in US.
May be he was aware of what had happened in India while US was sleeping, for being the tech savvy man that he is, people would have kept him updated. But that surely did not distract him, for he delivered one of his best speeches to one of the most elite audience. If one had just landed in India and watched TV through the day (and night), it would have appeared that the India he was referring to is part of his imagination compared to the India we live in. But that’s what good orators are.
If we have the best sales man at the helm, it is time he also has the best product to sell on the global platform. Else all the Congressmen who applauded for him are likely to go home, get reports of how democracy is being slowly murdered in India.
These are the consequences of years of hatred being practiced and sown into young minds brought up on a mono-culture which is not just to be the best, but also has to be imposed on others. “the differences in perspectives add value to our partnership,” was my favorite quote from his speech today.
I remember a Bollywood movie called “Saudagar” which had three thespians, two, Dilip Kumar and RajKumar in front of the camera and the third Subhash Ghai behind the camera as director. Now these two strong men in the movie indoctrinate their children and followers with so much of hatred against each other, that eventually when they reconcile they find it difficult to get their followers to reconcile. They had been brought up on hatred and they were unable to live without it. So they had to watch in horror as their children sought to kill each other.
The story of the children of the Pariwaar is similar. They have been brought up on two things, our glorious cultural heritage which has to be treated as to be the best without any question and secondly as a corollary hatred for the invaders who became rulers and stayed in our country. Without this hatred there would be a void.
We need to give them something to fill up this potential vacuum. NaMO has been working hard to fill it with the need to focus on development. Imagine what amazing results we can get if the whole country irrespective of caste and religion is aligned to this single focus to once again make India the Golden Sparrow that it was. Probably now it may become the Golden Elephant.
It is a mystery as to how he is not able to convince his own team members to focus on development. Probably it is time for him to change his communication mode, to shift his focus from monologues to dialogues. Or may be again he may come with some out of the box thinking to resolve this mystery for today he stands in a cusp position where greatness beckons him with open arms.
He just needs to open up himself to grab the opportunity.