Prime Minister, or rather Prime Sevak, Narendra Modi played his Independence Day card well, so much so that talking heads on prime television shows spent almost the entire day analysing the speech and the symbolism.
Judging from their reactions, it was the symbolism that spoke the loudest. Here’s how the analysis went:
First talking head: I have to take my hat off to him. Look at that flowing turban — it was the mark of a man in full flow, and the colours, saffron, with a green tail and white dots, quite appropriate in the circumstances. Manmohan Singh wore a turban, but his was always blue — also quite appropriate. Other PMs have worn their patriotism on their sleeves and he flaunted it on his head. It was the crowning glory.
Second talking head: Manmohan could hardly be seen, let alone heard, behind that bullet-proof glass. It showed how remote he was. Here we saw Modi without any barriers. He was saying ‘I don’t need protection from Delhi’s elite armchair warriors’, and that he was bent upon ‘breaking down walls’. The outsider is becoming the insider and is taking on the government.
Third talking head: But he is the government.
Second talking head: You know what I mean, his sevak remark, ministries at war with each other, you saw him rolling up his sleeves when talking about all this, even if they were short sleeves, he was readying for battle. All this while standing on the ramparts of Red Fort, the seat of Mughal dominance over India. What symbolism.
Third talking head: But every PM speaks from Red Fort on this day. I don’t see what the fuss is about. And who is he going to battle with?
Fourth talking head: The bureaucracy, his ministers, the Opposition, the RSS, terrorists, Maoists, the Delhi elite, the middlemen, Nitish and Lalu, Dawood and Hafiz, Sonia and Rahul. I could go on, but I see the anchor frantically signalling me…
First talking head: Talking about waging war, what struck me as most symbolic was his demand for a moratorium on violence for 10 years. It’s very significant because what he was implying was that he’s going to be around for 10 years so whether people, mainly the Congress, Nitish and Lalu, the middlemen, Dawood and Hafiz, the Delhi elite, like it or not. He’s looking at two terms.
Third talking head: Sounds like Natwar Singh’s book, ‘one term is not enough’. It’s equally bad news for people in the BJP — poor Sushma Swaraj looked quite downcast when the cameras focused on her, Advani was the first to leave, and the rest pretended to be taking notes in case he looked their way while talking about working 13 hours a day.
Fourth talking head: It’s the symbolism man, it’s my way or the highway. Just like his announcement about scrapping the Planning Commission. Basically, he was telling Montek to take a hike.
Second talking head: What was most symbolic was the cleanliness drive. What he meant was India is going down the toilet because of corruption and our cricketers not getting the runs, so we need to get off our butts and clean up our act.
First talking head: What was so symbolic was him speaking extempore, no speech writers. He was saying ‘I am my own man’, exerting his independence.
Second talking head: Talking about independence, the highlight I thought was the pledge that even the poorest of poor would have a bank account; great stuff, inspirational, visionary, inclusive…
Third talking head: It’s called a vote bank.