Papa don’t preach.
That seems to be the mood of some of the punditocracy about Indian prime minister these days. This Independence Day Shobhaa De dubbed Narendra Modi India’s “absentee dad”. And she warned him that “(w)hen children start feeling abandoned, an imminent break-up of the family unit becomes inevitable.”
But the Prime Minister’s lustre remains undimmed in Dubai. And New York. And Sydney. As the reception to his speech at the cricket stadium in Dubai showed, nobody is feeling “abandoned” there.
50,000 Indians packed the Dubai stadium chanting “Modi, Modi”. The Khaleej Times quotes early arrival Pramod Sitoke saying “It feels like it is 50 degrees outside but that doesn’t bother us.” Sitoke was wearing his Modi as superhero t-shirt. “We can feel secure here now (that Modi has come),” says Amit Shetty who has been living there for 15 years.
Clearly the MSG is back. And no, that’s not about Maggi. It’s the Madison Square Garden feeling. Every other copy about #ModiInDubai mentioned it.
Modi is like a rock star when he goes abroad, and like every good rock star on tour, he gives the crowd what it wants - his greatest hits over and over again, slightly modified to match the venue. Dubai I love you. New York, you are special. Toronto, you are the best.
The recipe is quite simple and it’s a surefire hit every time.
Diaspora, here’s a little love for your host country
In New York, “America is the oldest democracy of the world. India is the biggest democracy.” In Sydney, “Australia and India share common values. Democracy is our heritage.” Smartly in Dubai, he didn’t bang the democracy drum too much. Instead “even if it rains in India, people in Dubai open their umbrellas to keep us safe.”
Diaspora, here’s special love just for you
“I thank the NRIs for their participation in the Indian general election of 2014. You may not have voted in 2014 but am sure when the results were coming, you didn’t sleep and celebrated. Through your actions you have earned immense respect in the USA.” And over in Dubai “You are those people who have worked hard and are working here for many years. At the same time you are enhancing India's pride.”
Diaspora, I feel your pain
Mostly visa pains. In Dubai he told the crowd that he was launching an E-migrate portal named Madad to address their grievances. And put the Indian consulate on notice to shape up within 30 days. In New York he promised cheering Indian Americans visas on arrival and merging PIO and OCI cards. And no need to keep going to the police station for verification.
Diaspora, there’s a new sheriff in town
In the US he told the crowd “Earlier governments only talked about making new laws, I have removed all laws that were outdated and redundant.” And in Sydney “(The old government) enjoyed making laws. I enjoy finishing laws.”
Diaspora, this is not your old India anymore
India is a country full of opportunities with 65 percent of the population under 35 he told Dubai. In Madison Square Garden he had said “India is the youngest nation in the world with 65% of its population below 35 years of age.” More colourfully in Sydney “Mother India has 250 crore arms, 200 crore of these arms are under 35.”
Diaspora, you can hold your head up high now
Talking about the Crown Prince and his brothers coming to greet him at the airport Modi said, “This love is not just for me. It is the welcome of the 1.25 crore people of India, it is the respect for a changed India.” And in Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum “This respect is not for a person, it is not for Narendra Modi but it is for the 125 crore people of India.”
Diaspora, we will always love you
“In times of crisis we do not see the colour of anyone's passport. We do everything possible for people,” he reassured Toronto. And then he told the cheering throngs of Dubai “For Indians, we don't look at the colour of passports, the color of blood is enough.”
And finally, Diaspora, I am your man
If New York heard “I will repay this debt by building a new and prosperous India. An India of your dreams” Dubai rejoiced to “if I am unable to do something for you, I become restless.”
What Modi taps into brilliantly is the need of the diaspora to not feel like India’s step children. If he wants to assuage the NRI American of the guilt of having abandoned Mother India for the American Dollar Dream, he cleverly reassures the Dubai Indian that he knows many have come there as labourers and he will not rest till he has done something for them (perhaps a temple?) whether or not he can do anything for their more well-heeled brethren in America.
It’s really the stump speech of a very savvy political candidate out on the campaign trail, crafted carefully with appeals to their hearts and wallets, stroking and stoking NRI pride, doling out a few sops and positioning himself as their saviour. As the emcee in Madison Square Garden, television anchor Hari Sreenivasan told the delirious crowd “Remember he’s already elected. It’s beginning to sound like a campaign rally.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this but Narendra Modi is not running for office. He is in office with a thumping majority. But he gives the impression that he’s happiest on the campaign trail with adoring crowds who are putty in his hand. In the complex game of mirrors that make up the media, Modi’s team surely hopes that adulation abroad gets reflected back to Indians at home, giving them a sort of vicarious ego boost about “hamara pradhan mantra-ji”.
Being a Campaigner-in-chief is not a problem unique to Narendra Modi. Bill Clinton often faced the criticism that he seemed much more happy running for President than actually being the President. He was a natural on the campaign trail, sucking up the energy of the crowds like oxygen. Hillary Clinton gives out the reverse vibe. She seems more anxious to somehow get through the campaign so she can get on with the task of governing. A Democratic operative described as a “huge Hillary Clinton fan” tells New York Magazine that she’d be “a great president” but “I do have major concerns about her ability as a campaigner and to get elected.” Or as The Week summed it up “she is no Bill Clinton”. But the peril of being a Bill Clinton is that he often relied on his charisma to see him through, rather than doing the daily grind of wheeling and dealing necessary to shepherd his agenda through Congress. Hence a book like Richard Reeves’ Running in Place: How Bill Clinton Disappointed America.
Modi is also finding out that his personal charisma isn’t enough to see his big ticket bills make it through parliament. His colleagues in Parliament complain that he does not attend the House enough, that the voluble Prime Minister is silent on the issues that are roiling his government. The Congress used his absence to hold parliament hostage during the recent Lalitgate and Vyapam scandals declaring that a debate was meaningless without the PM there. Well-wishers like industrialist Rahul Bajaj worry that the “shine seems to be wearing off”. “Instead of clarity there is confusion… instead of implementation there is inaction,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta worrying that India “will be fated to deal with another missing PM who may be loud, but is still missing.”
But whatever naysayers might say one thing is undeniable. The Prime Minister is indefatigable. As soon as he returned from his UAE trip, he jetted off to Bihar without any rest, an energizer PM always on the go. In Bihar he had to inaugurate a highway project and then do what he seems to relish the most – address a political rally. Now Narendra Modi has to show that he relishes getting his agenda through parliament as much as he relishes selling it at rallies.
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Updated Date: Aug 18, 2015 23:09:56 IST