He has changed everything for me.” “He will make India corruption-free.” “[He] makes you feel so positive about India.” “[He is] very visionary.” “He has such clarity of thought — no comparison with him.” “It has never happened before and (someone like him) and will never happen again.” “After 65 years, we are proud of India, we are proud of Modi.” “Modi, Modi, Modi.”
Never before — since last September to be exact — have we witnessed anything like this and, as one of the non-resident Indians quoted above said, it will “never happen again”. Until next September, that is, when the prime minister is likely to visit the US again — or November, when he will be in the UK with maybe some 75,000 screaming fans at Wembley Stadium (BJP’s Ram Madhav).
Watching the TV coverage of the PM’s five-day trip to the US, a few things became clear: the PM travels well, his image travels better and patriotism travels best. It seems to grow in direct proportion to the number of kilometres you’re “away from home”. What’s that saying — distance makes the heart grow fonder? So true of Modi and the NRI. For instance, the reception he received in San Jose as he entered the SAP arena like the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, was a “never before” moment that reminded you of Madison Square Garden exactly a year ago.
For those of us worrying about drought and dengue, just two afflictions that plague and ail India, the television screen was like a giant bubble. When the PM boarded his Air India flight (Dreamliner?) to foreign lands, we embarked along with him on the Great (NR) Indian Dream.
And what a dream it was, my countrymen and women. In his speeches at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, his interactions with business and IT leaders, his Facebook townhall with Mark Zuckerberg and his address to NRIs in San Jose, Narendra Modi sold a dream India to his audiences.
A dream of a digitised India, a Swachh Bharat, a corruption-free India, an India where each Indian had a bank account — and a toilet. Incredible India. Listening to him, the audience seemed well and truly flabbergasted: Was he talking about the India we all know? No, but he made you feel “so positive about India”, he painted such a beautiful picture, you were hard pressed not to buy into it.
TV news and Indians abroad certainly bought into it. Each of Modi’s speeches and interactions was repeated through the day on TV — remember there is the time difference — his Facebook moment, when his voice cracked, tears spilled out as he recalled his mother, must have played at least every hour on Monday. Ditto his speech to the NRIs, which was even replayed on Monday evening primetime, although it had played all day.
The Modi visit was well-designed and well-orchestrated for positive optics. And TV lapped it up: Modi meets industry leaders, Modi emplanes, Modi deplanes, Modi pulls Mark Zuckerberg, Modi hugs Barack Obama, Modi visits Tesla, Modi lunches with NRIs (and stopped by every table for a photo, crooned Times Now anchor), Modi waves to Nawaz Sharif (yes even that)…
Television news, however, exaggerated the visit’s overarching importance. Modi was breaking news even while he slept. Meanwhile, the world awoke to Pope Francis and the Chinese President Xi Jinping on their first visits to the US. Did our channels cover the pope? Nah. Xi? Nah. Obama-Vladimir Putin? Nah. It was all Modi, Modi, Modi.
The PM is pushing for a seat on the UN Security Council, yet the media seems to have little interest in global issues. Unless it’s the world according to Modi.