Will Modi ever act like a Prime Minister, Shedding his Showman Avatar?
I attended the Narendra Modi event yesterday in Singapore with an open mind, ready to become a bhakt (devotee!) if he can offer me evidence that he means what he says – particularly on inclusiveness, pluralism and tolerance.
But the Indian Prime Minister failed to make me a BJP convert, as he succeeded in only demonstrating that he was nothing more than a showman.
The Expo gates, where Mr Modi addressed the Indian diaspora, were thrown open to the public at 3.30pm (I reached there at 4.30) and he showed up past 8.30pm. Until then I had to put up with some cultural programmes. Well, sort of!
Vande Mataram: Before his arrival, the Expo auditorium presented a temple-like environment with one religious song after another taking the audience, comprising largely North Indians, on a spiritual journey. When devotional passion took a breather it was time for a dash of jingoism.
There were a couple of “Vande Mataram” renditions – one of them accompanying a hula hoop performance by a student was brilliant.
No National Anthems: I was thinking the National Anthems of both India and Singapore will be sung after Mr Modi finishes his speech.
Though it was an event meant for the Indian diaspora, the purpose of Mr Modi’s visit to Singapore was to sign a strategic partnership between the two countries. It was to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and India.
There were some Lord Ganesha numbers, some Gujarati, Haryani, Punjabi and Malayalam dance performances. Most of them were from students of the Indian international schools in Singapore (Global Indian School, DPS, etc.) and from institutions such as the Ramakrishna Mission.
Indian Version of Madrasahs?: They made me wonder if these institutions were functioning like Madrasahs, promoting majoritarianism in India.
Is Singapore, which has been fairly successful in enforcing racial harmony here, being a party to the promotion of religious one-upmanship in India?
Modi, Modi, Modi Chants: Along the way, the MCs were encouraging the audience to keep chanting the name of the Prime Minister. The audience responded with enthusiasm, screaming: “Modi, Modi, Modi…”
I can lap this up as an instance of institutions being more loyal than their master. He appeared to relish the chanting as he paused every time the chants rent the air. If I was his adviser, I will suggest that he discourages that kind of euphoric hero-worshipping!
It was a demonstration that Indians, wherever they are, will remain a bunch of sycophantic, adoring followers who get easily carried away by hype and hyperbole – an attitude that has been holding up India’s progress all through.
Hindi Harangue! When finally Mr Modi arrived he straightaway took off on a harangue in Hindi. It was clear to me yet again that he was the Prime Minister of Hindia, not India. As he thrives on his popularity with people from the North besides NRIs, his aim is just to connect with them!
I could see he is comfortable in Hindi as he will struggle to get all the drama effect in English. A translation will also minimise the impact.
Visitors were each presented with a copy of a magazine, Jai Ho, brought out by the organisers of the Modi event, the Singapore NRI Forum, to commemorate the occasion.
Nehru Blackout: The glossy magazine was a glorification of Mr Modi than a celebration of India. There were quotes from him with big photographs on every other page.
It also had some quotes from Sardr Vallabhbhai Patel, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Dr Abdul Kalam and Guru Gobind Singh.
None from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, anywhere.
After all, the BJP’s and Mr Modi’s priority is to obliterate the name of Nehru and the family from the history of India. Noble Intentions!
G Joslin Vethakumar