Narendra Modi’s extensive visit make him as 24×7 Prime Time Prime Minister. His incredible stamina has been on display this week as he travelled from Tehran to Saharanpur, via Delhi, all within the space of 72 hours.
Modi began his visit to the Iranian capital on May 22 by going to a Gurudwara – no doubt with an eye to the elections in Punjab in January 2017 – and ended it on May 23 by signing an ambitious trilateral agreement with the Afghan and Iran presidents. The pact committed India to building a deep water port at Chabahar in the north Indian Ocean, enabling Indian trade and traders to bypass Pakistan and access not only Afghanistan and Central Asia, but also the enormous expanse of market-friendly Russia beyond.
Late that night, Modi was back in Delhi for a change of clothes and some rest, before he was off some 48 hours later to Saharanpur in the heart of western Uttar Pradesh to address a mammoth rally and celebrate two years of being in power. Many said he was also blowing the bugle for the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh exactly a year from now.
Certainly, there is absolutely no doubt about the PM’s drive and overweening ambition. No other leader in the country can come remotely close to his fierce determination to expand the RSS and BJP’s influence across the country. Over the next few days, Modi will touch down on such diverse places on the map as Shillong (Meghalaya), Dhavalgiri (Karnataka) and Balasore (Odisha), while 33 teams of BJP politicians will fan out to 198 cities across India to recount all the promises his government has kept these past two years.
Not for one second, though, did Modi or anyone in his testosterone pumped-up entourage in Saharanpur – from Home Minister Rajnath Singh to the BJP’s man in-charge of UP, Om Mathur – spare a thought for the man lynched last September in Bisada village near Dadri, on the mere suspicion of eating beef. Dadri is just 55 km away from Delhi.
But the truth is that Modi is given to the grandiloquent gesture, not the quiet, reassuring behind-the-scenes press of the hand. He would rather be seen embracing US President Barack Obama, still the world’s most powerful man, which is why he is going to meet him next month, for the seventh time since he became PM, or organizing the world’s largest Yoga Day or making a last-minute, jaw-dropping visit to attend Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s grand-daughter’s wedding outside Lahore.
Modi simply loves the spectacle, the razzmatazz, the extravaganza that adds an extra edge to the daily business of politics. But he isn’t given to the large-hearted business of reaching out to his opponents, especially those he has bested – in the Saharanpur rally he derisively referred to those “who will never understand even as the rest of India does,” a reference to the Congress party.
Nor has he fully realized that as Prime Minister, or “pradhan sevak” as he called himself at Saharanpur, he is no longer the RSS pracharak he once was, even if that was his identity for most of his adult life.
In these past two years, Modi has never once publicly apologized for the slurs his colleagues have employed against Muslims, like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, nor reined in the Bajrang Dal hordes who recently held a self-defence camp in Ayodhya against skull-cap wearing “terrorists.” In fact, the PM, who otherwise seems as if he is constantly in election campaign mode, has maintained a curiously, stony silence in the face of aggravating social tension.
You could call him India’s first 24×7 prime-time Prime Minister. Atal Behari Vajpayee was his wooden best on air, while Manmohan Singh simply hated the limelight. Both Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, believe there is more to governance than being comfortable with the teleprompter.
Much has been written about the laundry list of schemes that Modi has announced with considerable fanfare these past two years, several of them extremely credit-worthy like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the Beti Padhao scheme. And although the first green-shoots in the economy are becoming visible, with low oil prices aiding the government-sponsored fiscal stimulus (especially in roads, telecom, solar power and fertilisers), fact is that a recovery in the investment cycle – which is fundamental to sustainable growth – will have to wait, at least for another year.
The PM realizes that his government has to move much faster on the jobs front – especially as India adds a million adults to the job market every month. So all the ministries in Delhi have been told to think up schemes that will focus on the creation of jobs.
But Modi also realizes that India lives in its states – and in the villages. One of his most successful achievements has been to cut back about 33 per cent funds at the centre and transfer them to the states.
And so it goes in Modi’s Delhi. As the PM asserts himself on the national firmament, his trusted confidante and party president Amit Shah constantly by his side, the rest of the BJP plays the political version of “snakes and ladders.” Perhaps they derive comfort from the fact that the game is as old as the Mahabharata.