The Twitterati don’t like it when Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes face to face with women who make it a habit to live beyond the ‘lakshman rekha’ – women like Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and NBC star anchor Megyn Kelly.
Chopra was panned by Twitter folks for wearing a dress that showed her knees when she ran into the PM the morning he was leaving Berlin last week, the first stop in his four-city/nation tour.
Priyanka tweeted the photo with the PM, thanking him for “taking the time to meet me this morning.” The PM’s Twitter handle @narendramodi has no record of that meeting.
On Thursday night at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, star NBC anchor Megyn Kelly had a brief run-in with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, just before they went in for dinner. She was wearing a strappy cocktail dress. The Twitterati largely disapproved.
Modi, who has 30.3 million followers on Twitter, knew who Megyn Kelly was. He had seen the photo she had tweeted of herself on the streets of wet St. Petersburg, holding a black umbrella on one side. She’s smiling and her golden hair is a halo around her face.
So when Modi and Megyn said hello, he laughed and said to her, “I have seen your tweet. With the umbrella.”
She laughs back, a beautiful all-American girl, and holds Modi’s arm convivially. “Oh!” she says, “are you on Twitter?” Yes, Modi shakes his head in assent.
And then Ms Kelly turns to the Russian President and turns on the charm. Vladimir Vladimirovich, she says, greeting him properly in the Russian way, his first name followed by his patronym.
She has asked Putin for an interview, and he has granted it. It will be aired on Sunday, the first interview to an American journalist since the series of recent stories in the US media about Russia interfering in the US election.
Certainly, there’s something about the relationship between Russia and the US which continues to command interest. Despite the end of the Cold War 26 long years ago, Russia remains the Evil Empire Incarnate, but that doesn’t prevent people from both sides being intensely interested in the other.
As Megyn and Putin look at each other in the corridor of the Konstantin Palace, the Russian president says to her in Russian, “So are you going to grill me in the interview?”
The young Russian interpreter translates for her. At Putin’s comment, Megyn clasps her hands together and replies, “That’s right, I’m looking forward to that !” Of course everyone, including Modi, laughs.
But Megyn isn’t giving up. “Are you ready for me?” she asks Putin. The Russian interpreter interprets her : “Vy gotovy?”
To which the Russian president says, pointing towards Modi, “Ya nyet. Vot premier minister, on gotov…” Not me, but the prime minister, he is ready…
The sentence is mauled mid-way. We don’t know how it ends. In the NBC News video clip, Putin is now shown leading both Megyn and Modi into dinner.
This 30-second interaction in a corner of faraway St. Petersburg is a classic lesson in power play. The powerful American journalist, who wants her interview with Russia’s most powerful man – of course, the fact that Megyn had a running feud with Donald Trump over the last year or so may have helped her in getting this meeting with Putin – will stop at nothing to get her interview. And then there is Vladimir Putin, familiar with the exercise of power and intimate with the eyeball-to-eyeball school of diplomacy.
As Megyn schmoozes with Putin, Modi watches.
So what if India’s economy is several times larger than Russia, that India is the fastest growing economy in the world the second time running, that India unlike Russia, doesn’t have a bunch of oligarchs who have invested their money abroad buying English football clubs and yachts off the Greek coast.
In the real world, Russia punches several times above its weight not only because it has nuclear weapons – India does too – but because it takes itself seriously. Vladimir Putin certainly doesn’t care what the rest of the world says about him and his authoritarianism, as long as his own Russian people believe he is doing a good job.
It shows in his high approval ratings. In return, Putin says he is determined that Russians never have to go through the shame and humiliation of the post-Cold War era, when mass hunger stared millions of Russians in the face.
As Modi returns from St. Petersburg and prepares to go to Washington DC later in June to meet Donald Trump, he might think about that 30-second interaction between him, Putin and Megyn.
Having reached the acme of power at home, perhaps the prime minister may want to dissect the nature of that power. What is it about Russia that Americans continue to hate and love as well as respect? What should India do so that the world also feels that way?