Shah Rukh Khan is perhaps one of the most adored and at the same time the most criticised actor in Bollywood. On one hand you have millions of Indians lapping up every little gesture the charismatic King Khan makes, both on and off screen, and on the other, there are his critics who point out that SRK has been dishing out the same stuff for the last two decades.
Even though he is part of the Salman Khan brigade (chest-wise, Dabanng style, and what-not), Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be falling into the Shah Rukh Khan trap. Just as SRK lights up the screen whenever he's on it, PM Modi can be electrifying when he's at the podium. His defensive cross-armed posture when he isn't speaking gives absolutely no indication of how energetic he can be while speaking. His oratory played a major part in his remarkable victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, as it did in his successive victories in Gujarat since 2002.
But like SRK, Modi is convinced that he knows, better than anyone, on "what sells" with the people. This has made his speeches a tad too repetitive and predictable. His speech after the BJP's national executive meet in Bangalore on Friday, is a case in point. Modi spent a very substantial part of his slightly more than an hour speech on attacking the UPA government. "For many years there was an atmosphere of despondency and fear... every day we received news of a fresh scam or scandal... even the world had turned its back on India... there were even fears whether India will survive or not," Modi said in his speech today.
There is no doubt that this dual strategy of attacking Congress and creating imaginary threats and doomsday scenarios has worked wonders for Modi for all these years, just as the Yashraj, Karan Johar and Farah Khan formulas have worked wonders for SRK. Whenever he is pushed to a corner, this is what Modi does - bash the UPA. He did that during the Delhi elections, he did that in Parliament when a surprisingly belligerent Opposition had the government on the defensive on the Land Acquisition Bill. Yes, picking on a cardboard target like the Congress or repeating the coal scam and 2G scam figures, as he did in the Bangalore speech, can give Modi a few extra claps from a captive audience. But this approach is subject to the law of diminishing returns in the long run. After all, the Congress has been punished, and that too rather severely for all its misdeeds - both real and perceived. But surely his sole achievement can't be that he isn't the UPA.
Modi left many major issues untouched during his speech. Most significantly Pakistan, on which there is very little clarity on where the Modi government stands. The prime minister began on a positive note by inviting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony. A few months later, the two countries were engaged in some of the most intense skirmishes on the border since the Kargil conflict. And recently, the dialogue process has been restarted, despite Islamabad doing absolutely nothing on the terrorism front or on bringing the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks to justice. The Modi government even turned a blind eye to Kashmiri separatists' meeting with the Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi, an issue on which the UPA was much more hawkish. If this is being done as part of the BJP's deal with its alliance partner in Jammu and Kashmir, the PDP, then is Modi the strong leader that he is presenting himself to be?
The second issue which Modi remained completely silent on is the foot-in-the-mouth epidemic that seems to have afflicted many of his party members and even ministers. Even if one leaves aside Giriraj Singh's racist slur on Sonia Gandhi, his remarks offended a friendly country like Nigeria for which its High Commission in Delhi had to issue a statement expressing its outrage. Surely, Singh and other motormouths in the BJP deserved a public censure?
Even on the Land Acquisition Bill, Modi did nothing to assuage the concerns of the farmers and the Opposition. Instead, he connected the Sangh's pet cow-protection issue with farmers and said "Pashu dhan ki raksha karni hai taaki kisaan ko taaqat milay". It's almost like saying, if you can't have land, have cows.
The recent India Today Group-Cicero poll shows that Modi's popularity has eroded over the last ten months. Mere anti-UPAism isn't enough to run this country. As SRK would say, "picture abhi baaki hai meray dost".