Even as Narendra Modi made US lawmakers swoon inside House Chambers, while addressing a joint session of the US Congress, some of the comments he made in that virtuoso speech — which will surely go down as one of his finest and a high point in Indian diplomacy — were at variance with the situation back home.
Before I delve into the oddities that somewhat sully the prime minister's portrayal of the idea of India that he projected so adroitly in Capitol Hill on Wednesday, let us understand what his stated ambition is, vis-à-vis his and India's future.
Modi, quite simply, envisions India as a global superpower and as prime minister, wants to be the main architect of it, leaving behind a permanent legacy that can compete with and even overshadow the one left behind by the man whom he carefully chose not to name yesterday — Jawaharlal Nehru. If India's first prime minister gets to be called the 'maker of modern India', Modi wants to be known as the maker of 21st century India.
Towards that end, he has been working tirelessly and the latest whirlwind world tour is just another instance of a punishing schedule that the PM has kept for himself, ever since assuming office at 7 RCR.
At stake, presently, is an opportunity of being part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an exclusive group of nuclear vendors comprising 48 nations. The annual plenary session is just around the corner and Modi has already been able to garner support for India's inclusion, from Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann, POTUS Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Whether or not that will be enough is a moot question tackled in-depth by Jaideep Prabhu in here.
But even as India, the world's fastest growing economy, stands at the cusp of history, and Modi attempts to portray it as the growth engine rooted in democracy that the world so desperately needs, the noise emanating out of the country on some issues severely undercuts the prime minister's best efforts.
While addressing the joint session of US Congress for instance, Modi brought in a reference to BR Ambedkar and hinted that the founding father of the Indian Constitution was impacted deeply by the US Constitution, while he was a student at Columbia University, over a century ago. It was an ingenious touch, linking two nations with a common strand. And it drew warm applause.
But while he was extolling the virtues of Ambedkar in the US, back home in Delhi, Ram Bahadur Rai, the recently-appointed chief of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), a government-funded art centre, was busy questioning Ambedkar's role behind the framing of Indian Constitution, calling it a "myth".
Rai, a former RSS pracharak, told Outlook magazine in an interview that Ambedkar had little to do with the Indian Constitution, beyond correcting the English of a civil servant who supplied the material and that his role was "a myth, a myth, a myth."
While Modi was telling the US lawmakers that "Constitution is his government's real holy book", Rai was quoted as saying in the interview that India's "Constitution is a haven for lawyers — lawyers wrote it, the kind with no connection to India's nature or culture... and is broadly, a new testament of our gulaami (slavery)".
Beyond undermining BJP's Dalit outreach and sparking another predictable political wrangling ahead of the upcoming UP Assembly polls, Rai's comments are an indication that try as Modi might to harness India's "profound social and economic change" to build the kind of future that its 1.25 billion citizens deserve, the biggest obstacles in his path will come not from his political rivals, but from hotheads who belong to his own ideological moorings.
And as an administrator, Modi will be sorely tested by his ability to strike a balance between keeping them in check while ensuring that the growth story does not become awry.
"Freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights (in the Indian Constitution)", Modi said to the august house in Capitol Hill, even as a fierce debate rages back home over Udta Punjab, which censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani — a self-anointed Modi chamcha — has put on the chopping block for basing its central theme on drug and substance abuse in the state of Punjab.
"Yes, I am a chamcha of Narendra Modi as Anurag Kashyap said. I am proud to be, a Modi chamcha (acolyte). Should I be a chamcha of the Italian Prime Minister instead?" the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief said, while facing a barrage of questions over his role in refusing to give clearance to the movie, unless the filmmakers acquiesce to a demand of 94 cuts.
Producer Anurag Kashyap has refused to make the cuts and has sought legal intervention. We haven't heard the last word on this issue yet.
The Centre, when approached by filmmakers on the removal of Nihalani, correctly point out that they cannot intervene beyond referring it to another committee. But between the ping-pong game of various committees, the image which emerges is that of a country still not mature enough to take a honest look at its problems.
And this message is at variance with the prime minister's attempts at hard selling India as a mature democracy that seeks mutually beneficial foreign investment. It also irreparably harms his own legacy.