Narendra Modi is on his second visit to the United Kingdom after he took over as the Prime Minister of India in May 2014. On Wednesday, Modi held a unique interaction with the Indian diaspora there called 'Bharat Ki Baat Sabke Saath' at the Central Hall Westminster in London. Modi's address, though a surprising two-way talk this time, was reminiscent of his speech at the Wembley Stadium three years ago.
Apart from the marked change in attire — from his trademark kurta pyjama and half vest to 'suit-boot'- Modi's approach and the overall stance was much softer given that back in 2015 he was just a year in power and now the situation stands reversed.
Though some of his talks were mere reiterations of his previous addresses in India and abroad, he was much clearer in picking his enemies this time. From the obvious attack on the Opposition to nailing Pakistan on the issue of surgical strikes, Modi was direct and more precise. He also made sure that he projects himself as someone open to criticism as he mentioned that the secret to his stamina was of "1kg-2kg of gaalis (abuses) daily".
This time, apart from the usual mention of his humble start as a tea-seller at the railway station, Modi also took along the middle-class to weave in his message for the masses. At Wembley in 2015, Modi had said, "The dreams you have seen, the dreams every Indian has seen...we have the capability to realise those dreams". Three years down the line Modi has mellowed and remarked that he is only human and humans make mistake.
In 2015, Modi's aim was to project India as a global power, "The world is recognising India as a power. It is looking at India as a land of opportunities" he had said, but this time he was determined to look within. The approach was inward and instead of announcing a direct London-Ahmedabad flight, Modi discussed issues plaguing India. While in Wembley Modi had talked about terrorism and global warming, in Westminster, he was specific to surgical strikes and the sanitation problem in India. Though, he remained consistent in his goal to highlight his government's efforts to build more toilets in India.
Farmers were also discussed as Modi promised to "double their income by 2022", adding to the long-list of long-sighted dreams he has made the country see. But the prime minister was very sharp in his rebuttal to Pakistan on India's surgical strikes. "Through surgical strike, our jawans gave a befitting reply to those who export terror. We believe in peace. But we will not tolerate those who like to export terror. We will give back strong answers and in the language they understand. Terrorism will never be accepted", Modi stated firmly. “Bharat Aankh Jhukaakar Ya Aankh Uthaakar Nahi Balki Aankh Milaakar Baat Karne Mein Vishwaas Karta Hai" was the clear message from the stage.
But apart from that, Modi laid much of his emphasis on the principles of democracy in his Westminster address. "Democracy is not any contract or agreement, it is about participative governance. Constructive criticism strengthens democracy," he said. But he was quick to add in the current context of rising heat against his government that "criticism has turned into allegations now" and that "criticism is democracy's biggest strength while allegation is its biggest enemy".
Perhaps, in a matter of three years, Modi has realised the burden of expectations on him in a more rational way. So instead of boasting of fulfilling all dreams, he said, "Yes, people have more expectations from us because they know that we can deliver. People know that when they say something, the government will listen and do it." He also made a rare admission to play down his larger-than-life image by saying "I was not born with an aim to be in history books. I request you all to remember our country and not Modi. I am just like you all, a common citizen of India. And, I also have drawbacks like normal people do."
He also did not forget to once again mention Mahatma Gandhi's teachings. Since just like mentioning Ambedkar works in India to connect with the backward class, the Mahatma mention is important to bind a global audience. But while earlier he had talked about his virtues like non-violence, this time it was about "development turning into a Jan Andolan" just like Gandhi's movements did.
Though his mention of Lord Basaveshwara who is the deity of — poll-bound Karnataka's minority Lingayat community — was a definitive electoral stroke, he played it rather subtly in the form an answer to a viewer's question.
So all-in-all it was a different Modi we got to see on Wednesday night in Westminster than the one we saw in Wembley three years back. This was a more restrained, composed and calculated version of his keeping in mind, not just the now-being realised burden of expectations but also the to-be-realised dream to come back to power again in 2019.
Updated Date: Apr 20, 2018 15:52 PM