On the eve of Indira Gandhi’s first Washington visit as Prime Minister, our Ambassador had asked US President Lyndon Johnson how he should address them. Should he call her Mrs Gandhi, or Minister Madam Prime Minister? The ambassador sent the query back to New Delhi. The Prime Minister replied that his own cabinet ministers usually called him ‘Sir’.
I remember this story last week when a rare TV channel hosted a rare show on disastrous GDP numbers. At one stage in the debate, a spokesperson of the Samajwadi Party asked a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson who was the Agriculture Minister. The region employed the most citizens; Surely the ruling party spokesperson would know who was the minister in charge? BJP was not hacked. The sad truth is that he was not going to know anyway. In the presentation of this government, all that matters is’ Modi! Modi! Modi! ‘, What mattered to Congressmen in the 1970s was’ Indira’. Indira! Indira ‘.
When in the winter of 2013–4, Narendra Modi began his prime ministerial bid, a key part of his appeal was that he would be ‘strong’, while the then power was ‘weak’. The latter allegation was accurate; Especially in his second term, Drs. Manmohan Singh was uncertain and indecisive as well as very indifferent towards the first family of the Congress. His weakness was demonstrated in September 2013, when Drs. Singh had publicly stated that Rahul Gandhi was an ‘ideal choice’ for the PM, saying that he would be ‘happy’ to work under his leadership. The comment demolished his office. Dr. Singh had been Prime Minister at that time for more than nine years, and was a former Finance Minister and Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Whereas Rahul Gandhi’s only qualification for the post of Prime Minister was that he was the son of Sonia Gandhi.
Narendra Modi’s self-image and public presentation of himself as a strong and authoritative leader. Psychiatrists may wonder whether the private self actually conforms to the public image. Why would a man with a 56-inch chest get so scared of an unsolicited press conference that he hasn’t put one in office in six years? Could it be that his internal commitment is somehow less strong than the external projection? Be that as it may, in the context of his party, his cabinet and his government, Modi is indeed a strong man, only his will prevail.
Or, more accurately, his craze. The Prime Minister unilaterally demonetized and a careless imagery. So harsh was the lockout so early in the epidemic. Domain experts in these fields may have warned against these moves. In fact, they did, and were disregarded. Similarly, Modi’s estrangement with Xi Jinping flew because of logic and rationality, and the country is now paying the price. And it was Modi who unilaterally abandoned India’s traditional neutrality in an American presidential election, and the country can still pay the price for it.