Why the lines between bombast Modi and dynast Rahul Gandhi have blurred
It’s a silver spoon in the mouth versus a golden spoon in the hand.
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Is the choice only between a dynast and a bombast?
For the longest time ever since heirloom politician Rahul Gandhi was seen as the opponent to Narendra Modi, the BJP’s reputation shredding machine has worked relentlessly to tatter the former’s credibility and capability as an entitled, privileged, but talentless and failed prince. Gandhi could not have given this hurtful campaign more credence with his hesitation, doubts and reluctance to jump into the messy and riotous political pit, ever since he contested his first election 13 years ago.
On the other hand, there is Modi, the bombast, who took his poor, impoverished chaiwallah antecedents to apoplectic hysteria in his election campaign to become prime minister, with canny slogans and inane chai pe charchas.
However, in the past three years, ever since Modi won a stunning election victory in 2014, the needy chaiwallah has grotesquely metamorphosed into a coiffed, buffed, suited-booted, gargantuan demagogue, even as a billion unwashed masses wait desperately for the much-promised "achhe din" of vikas, rajya dharma, suraksha, yojana.
It’s no surprise that the attributes that chase Modi today are megalomania, egomania, vanity and arrogance. For years, the BJP propaganda machine has been telling Congressi lackeys to check their freebie entitlement, but have the lines blurred between privilege and egoism?
Here are five reasons why a bombast could surpass a dynast in the imperial sweepstakes:
Birthday shenanigans: It was the great leader’s birthday two days ago, and while the poor privileged dynast Rahul Gandhi has mostly run away abroad for a birthday vacation even as a scraggly group turns up at the Congress headquarters to sing wishes to "Rahul Bhaiya", the once-underprivileged, now-eager leader’s birthday is commemorated lavishly with mega celebrations, renaming and launching schemes in his name for the poor, tribals etc., to hailing Modi’s birthday as "Sewa Diwas" where cabinet colleagues picked up brooms to sweep the streets, and such like, in the past three years.
Posters and social media is full of praise and glory of the leader - Twitter even had balloons bouncing on one birthday - to gifting mega projects and dams to the nation. All this apart from allegedly issuing diktats to state schools to be open on a Sunday where children would be given sweets and told of his dreams and vision for India, something that was hastily withdrawn after protests.
'Is Modi’s gift of the bullet train to the nation his monogrammed Modi-suit moment?'
Modi’s personality cult has been built to portray him as the hero, the 56-inch chest of bravery and courage; even as the Modi website prod fawning bhakts to send birthday messages with the hashtag #NamoBirthday and through SMS to a toll free number. Keep them coming, poked the site, your wishes mean a lot. His birthdays have seen Guinness World Records being broken, from unveiling a 375-kg ladoo, to 1,000 children lighting diyas in 30 seconds, to the largest 1,000-wheelchair formed Happy Birthday logo to a beaming PM. It’s another matter the Modi government now wants to make special universities for disabled, overturning the acclaimed inclusive education mantra of activists.
Bullet or gravy train: Is Modi’s gift of the bullet train to the nation his monogrammed Modi-suit moment? Remember the ostentatious, vulgar and expensive suit which Modi wore to greet the then US president Barack Obama, which had his name woven into the fabric? And who can forget the costume change at least three times a day, on that visit?
Media reports have shown that the Rs 1.10 lakh crore bullet train (project) which will run between the two already well-connected cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad, is not just filthily expensive, but also a costly sweetheart deal from India to Japan after the loan is paid. It will salvage Japanese banks and the final amount will far overrun the initial cost.
And while the safety record of Indian Railways has plunged ever since Modi took over, Japan is not giving any guarantee for the safety record of the bullet train company. So, even as reports reveal the complete waste of scarce resources, where the price of one bullet train can budget the network expansion of Indian Railways, or add more trains on heavy traffic routes, Modi would rather give cake to a few and bread to none. And, please, don’t bring the bogey of grudging technological advancements, this deal is about Modi grabbing a chair on the global high table.
Midnight razzmatazz: As with all rollouts that come with bombast Modi, the GST "tryst with destiny" or "midnight bash" was yet another mega attempt at brazen self-promotion.
After opposing GST as Gujarat chief minister (Madhya Pradesh followed suit), a swaggering Modi walked up to the dais of a decked-up-like-a-bride Central Hall, and at the stroke of midnight, at 12am, he ushered in a new but hastily drawn up tax regime.
To add to the lurid pageant, invitees included neo-Modi lackey Amitabh Bachchan, Lata Mangeshkar, Ratan Tata, apart from heads of various business associations. Despite an Opposition boycott and amid sniggers of the return of the "inspector raj" an unabashed Modi has thrown the business community in complete disarray. That too, after the ill-conceived and narcissistically driven "notebandi" or demonetisation drive where millions of jobs, wages, labour was lost, including lives.
Well, Cinderella is proof that a pair of shoes can change your life.
Jumbo lifestyle: "Modi toadies" in the media have hailed the PM’s decision not to take the media on his foreign jaunts citing ridiculous reasons that they become embedded and that mediapersons don’t deserve this freebie. It could not be a more asinine argument as the PM’s giant jumbo jet, Air India One, is paid by taxpayers, it’s not Modi’s private jet. And why can’t Modi then travel in a smaller business jet?
Why does he need such an extravagant jumbo with all the trappings of luxury, crew, fuel costs etc? Is the media section taken to hang his suits and bandhgalas, cook, facialist and hair stylist? Of course, it allows Modi to never meet the media in a straightforward press conference; the few media interactions has always been staged and stilted.
And the price tag for these lavish jaunts? It’s an astounding Rs 275 crore for 27 trips, to 44 countries; the costliest was a nine-day trip to France, Germany and Canada, which cost the taxpayer Rs 31 crore, and the cheapest to Bhutan, at Rs 2.45 crore. But then, it’s bombast Modi, who loves a jumbo lifestyle, and so there are whirring images of expensive watches, pricey spectacles, fancy pens; mixed with his “god-gifted” talent for colourful jackets, angavastras, scarves and topis; hugging and handshaking world leaders in world capitals.
Modi vani: In the relentless project of building a personality cult, Modi has unabashedly used every medium, from the outmoded radio, to social media platforms; from books and paintings, to music and poetry.
A book on Modi’s Mann Ki Baat, a fortnightly broadcast on All India Radio, not only has a commendation written by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, which, of course, was launched by the president; it reveals that the names veered from “PM ke Saath Ru-Ba-Ru, to Varta Modiji ke Saath, to Modi vani (as in Akashvani, the Hindi name for AIR). As the soundtrack whirrs the listener in, Modi talks about austerity, cleanliness and godliness, from how to spend a summer vacation to travelling second-class in trains. This intimacy and familiarity has ensured, so far, that Modi cares for his people, even giving himself a name for them - Namo.
And so, as the great leader metamorphoses to his idol, Iron Man Sardar Patel - who he has usurped with dodgy history and lore - is a bombast any less privileged and entitled than the dynast?
It’s a silver spoon in the mouth versus a golden spoon in the hand.