Prime Minister Narendra Modi (NM) has always managed to do the unexpected. When he assumed office this month seven years ago he sported a trimmed dark beard. Recently his beard has turned white and there is no evidence of trimming or even the thought of it! The PM whose cronies boasted of his 56inch broad chest then are now perhaps expectantly waiting for the length of the beard. If not trimmed on time he might set a world record for beard length!
One wonders at how the PM has kept changing appearance and behavior since 2014. First, he was the face of the economic prosperity of an upbeat Gujrat. When Godhra happened in 2002, Sonia Gandhi gave him the quitab of ‘Maut Ke Saudagar’. That hate wave propelled him to the national limelight and he became the cynosure of a new generation who placed the economy at the top of the national agenda. The Aam Adami Party’s self-generated fiasco in the state of Delhi convinced voters in 2014 that BJP under Modi(sans Advani) were sure to usher in Achche Din for all and NM took the oath of office with his cabinet.
No sooner than the official oath-taking was over NM turned into an oath-giver. His RSS past came to good use here. Wherever he went he leaned on the juvenile patriotism of Indians and asked all to take oaths- students, teachers, labourers, managers, police: even soldiers who are living the oath on the borders. He was not invited to Pakistan during this mood-or he would have asked Pakistanis to take an oath to love India! He also turned himself into the friend-philosopher and guide for his countrymen and doled out sickeningly regularly wishy-washy patriotic canton on the TV in ‘Mann Ki Baat(bat?)’. He further became a great admirer of Gandhi and took it upon himself to clean the country literally with a broom in hand. He also saw the great potential of Yoga ( sic Ram Dev Baba), donned RSS like shorts after ages and performed Yoga in full view of the world.
Next NM became a globe-trotter. Having marked the External Affairs portfolio for himself he set in motion a non-stop world tour. The minister of state for the same, the late Sushma Swaraj was relegated to the shadows as the dashing NM scored a half-century of foreign visits in his first year! Gujjus who form the majority of the Indian diaspora flocked to see ‘Aapado Narenbhay’ all over the world while Indians were led to believe that he was receiving spontaneous ovations. Oath-giving continued but all visits were marked by NM’s over-enthusiasm in giving ‘Bear Hugs’ and warm (sic too hot ) handshakes to all male heads of state; only the Israeli counterpart reciprocated it! He also donned a suit of gold worth reportedly10 crores in between: it was explained away as a token of people’s love; Gandhian austerity went out of the aeroplane window?
Such was the globe trotter NM’s overzealousness that he landed unannounced in Pakistan to attend the then PM’s birthday (I refuse to take that infamous name); to give best wishes and of(off?) course a hug! The opposition parties in India should have raised hell over this whimsical diplomacy but they have been in the grip of severe amnesia for the last seven years. Be that as it may, the aftermath of this visit failed to make NM proud; the Pak PM soon had to step down in disgrace!
NM knew he was no Vajpayee in oratory; nor did he possess the dry but sensible diction of Advani! But drab speaking –not oratory- has always been the basic skill of RSS pracharaks. NM fell back on mundane, meaningless word-play (sic pj’s). Mission on Mars was shortened to MoM and NM ladled out ‘Mangalko Maa Mil Gayee’-simply overlooking that both Mars and Earth were fathered by the Sun-if the analogy is to be stretched! Similarly, when ISRO’s incompetence was seen by the world NM magnanimously shed tears and quipped, ‘Sampark Toot Gaya Lekin Sankalp Kaayam Rahega’ : heads would have rolled in another country for such failure!
NM took it upon himself to rid the country of the ‘parallel economy’ and enforced note-bandi suo moto throwing the system in total chaos for at least two quarters. But black money stayed where it was! The then finance minister’s untimely death was probably hastened by the desperate exertion to put out the fire started by his boss! India must have set a world record when seventy-odd ordinances were issued in Nov-Dec 2016!
NM turned emotional and shed nostalgic tears for his hard-working mother. He also managed to get some international awards. He also became the star face of BJP in elections to state assemblies and returned as an oath-taker for the second time in 2019, riding on the brave face of the ‘Balakot Bomber’. It needs to be noted here that international media had taken scant note of the bombing: only Indian media went head over heels!
He projected a new definition of secularism in the inaugural speech and true to form deprived Kashmir of its special status and stalling possible opposition by putting opponents under strict watch! (Incidentally, this was the only time, significantly, when NM seemed to have done his homework!). The judicial success over triple talaq and the Ram Temple location (this was a sweet smile from ‘lady luck?) further embellished his newly grabbed face of a ‘True Secularist’.
But this was short-lived!
While NM was resting on the laurels for becoming the first non-Congress PM to win a second term and, though rather clumsily, avenged Syama Prasad Mukerjee’s suspicious end by the fresh Kashmir initiative, the country was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. This was his most challenging moment since 2014 and he shed all reason to assume omniscience-for omnipotent he already was! Overnight the country was shut down as NM became the Saviour in the ‘War’ against an unknown Invisible Enemy! The whole country, as it were, wore the mask of total faith in the Saviour; people stayed home, washed hands(not off NM), beat thalis, lit and unlit lamps while the already dragging economic agenda was hit beyond redemption.
I have written extensively on the vagaries of NM’s Covid-19 policy or rather lack of consistent policy at both state and centre: so no need for repetition. Yet something must be pointed out. The Indian way of greeting with folded hands-Namaste-was hailed as the miraculous remedy by NM the world over this month last year: now India is looking at the world with folded hand for vaccine doses.
The face NM now has is rather grim and perhaps contrite! The beard knows only to grow and it surely will! It also helps to make NM’s utterances a bit unclear-last year lockdown was the first step-this year it should be the last, NM suggests in a subdued voice. He treated Mamata Didi as a virus worse than Covid-19 and disobeyed his own advice to countrymen-masks, distancing et al; both have stayed put-Didi for the next five years; Covid-19 nobody knows!
Yet NM was not short of putting up new faces when he came up with a most ridiculous plan: he suddenly declared that he had offered satyagraha for recognition of Bangla Desh by India! Now even a child knows that this was a poor ploy to wrest the initiative from Didi by telling the voters that NM cared for the Bangla identity long before Didi cut her teeth in politics. Maybe be it was also to make up for the total absence of NM against the fight with the infamous emergency of 1975-77. Whatever the logic this face flopped totally! Had NM done his homework he would have known that the whole country wanted Bangla Desh to be recognized as it would split Pakistan-the creation of which had split India. As such a satyagraha-if offered at all was a poor token! The boomeranging of this trick probably greatly chastised NM?
Perhaps NM thinks that the white beard will help him to look spiritual; someone who has done all for the world and is now about to withdraw. In our country this strategy has always worked: the moment Neta talks of retirement the cronies request him to stay! NM should also understand that the path to spirituality is through meditation; not mediation!
Lastly, I remember a conversation I had with an RSS senior when NM was inducted into politics; ‘He is capable and will go far’ this senior assured beamingly.
Surely NM showed his capability by going too far, to too many places, too often! He also showed us too many faces. NM delivered more than the RSS wanted/expected?
I know NM is not going to read this, yet I would like to blow a whistle! With balding white hair and a growing white beard, NM is developing a remarkable resemblance to an ill-famed ‘Bapu’!
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)
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