FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government are getting ready for the one year in office. The Ministers who are generally reticent are running around giving interviews, and creating the atmospherics for a ‘government that works.” And for a ‘nationalist’ government the prominent face at this stage becomes the Defence Minister who knew little about the Rafale deal when it was re-struck in France by the PM, but is on top of terrorism per se. His interviews to the media now speak of targeting killings— of course of terrorists only— and of the Army and the government being several steps ahead in containing terrorism.
But it is the Prime Minister who remains the showpiece of this government for it revolves around him. PM Modi personally has come a long way— from a pariah in Gujarat to a rah rah celebrity with adulating Indians outside India salivating around him for selfies, a look, a touch and of course the promises that even if undelivered are not going to impact on them particularly.
PM Modi is a recognised social media whiz. He is a media whiz per se, and had demonstrated this in Gujarat to some extent. But he came into his own during the Lok Sabha elections, with his grand oratory, his vigour, his non-stop campaign, and his sheer showmanship that was lapped up by the cameras and the scribes bored and fed up with the other faces in the fray. His campaign was dramatic and exciting, he himself was the star, and very soon his publicists were able to convert Modi the candidate into Modi the Prime Minister even before the votes were cast.
It was not long before the media started realising that all was not as it seemed. And Prime Minister Modi was not as friendly, in fact was not media savvy in the way it had been projected. He avoided one on one interviews, and while happily posing for the cameras atop a platform, avoided even brief interactions below. The media was not encouraged to walk into the Prime Ministers Office, with the absence of a media advisor making it more so. And very soon Ministers were told not to entertain the journalists, and give statements unless duly authorised. He stopped carrying media teams with him during his frequent visits abroad— a good thing actually— and ensured that all photographs were taken by his official photographs that were released only after due consideration. The ‘unguarded moment’ was thus taken care of by simply ensuring it was not there, with the Prime Minister always in pose— with his recent photographs from the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xi’an being a case in point.
The Prime Minister calibrated his visits to 18 countries in the first year carefully. While the small policy decisions were left to the Ministry of External Affairs and the PMO of course always in close supervision to work out, he was more interested in using the international platforms to establish himself as not just a world leader, but a leader sweeping the world. So his visit to the United States that had denied him a visa because of the Gujarat 2002 communal violence, became a major demonstration of his popularity. Madison Square Garden became the venue for the come back, as screaming and cheering Indian Americans gave him the legitimacy that he so desired. And from then on there has been no looking back, with multi-lakh suits, an extensive wardrobe enabling frequent changes of clothes during a day adding to the new found confidence of the chai wallah, as he is so fond of describing himself.
No other Minister was in sight abroad. It was PM Modi all the way. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj seems to have disappeared from view. And to think of it there would have been no Minister in sight in India as well, had it not been for the fact that many of them placed themselves under the spotlights with controversial comments and hate speech, and of course the requirements of Parliament that cannot have the PM alone in the dock. It is no secret that all big decisions are sent to the PMO for clearance, and as journalist and BJP ideologue Arun Shourie said recently, files are piling up at PM Modi’s desk for clearances. No one can speak unless he says, no one can take a decision unless he clears it, and while there is a Cabinet and a Council of Ministers the powers to the incumbents flow directly from the Prime Minister himself. The PMO is this huge swathe of bureaucrats, who work around the clock while National Security Advisor Ajit Doval keeps close watch on friends and foes alike.
PM Modi is this larger than life figure, in his own eyes as well. His speech to the Indian Community as Shanghai gave an indication of how he sees himself as the saviour, who was elected to bring Indians out of the depth of darkness. And that Indians were ashamed to call themselves Indian earlier, but now with his arrival as the Prime Minister all that has changed. And Indians are taking pride in their nation and their nationality. Of course these comments got him into serious trouble at home, for deriding India with the social media abuzz with tweets and jokes about #ModiInsultsIndia.
In one year, PM Modi has established himself as the sole man in the driving chair---abroad and in India. There is no collective responsibility, and the Cabinet is there to carry out his directions. No one tells the PM what to do, they dare not, with many of his announcements across the world catching his own minions by surprise. The decision to strike a new deal for 36 Rafale aircraft with the French was his announcement that had the officials scrambling to make sense; as was the e-visa in China that clearly the Foreign Secretary knew little about as he had just briefed the media saying no decision had been taken on this issue; and perhaps even the India-US civil nuclear agreement where he directed the officials to achieve a ‘breakthrough’ regardless of the bottlenecks. The Foreign secretary then announced ‘the deal is done’ although the details have still not been revealed.
The individual has taken over the collective. The executive now rests in one man, the Prime Minister. Good, bad or indifferent. He says ‘good’, but given the fact that he is perhaps one of the most polarising personalities to head India, the major opposition parties together insist ‘bad’. It is true there are not many ticking the ‘indifferent’ category. The real assessment will be made in the subsequent years, when the dust settles on the rah rah, and as the second witch in Shakespeare’s Macbeth said, “when the hurly burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won….”