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Time's 100 most influential people: How Barack came for Narendra's rescue

That Obama wrote on Modi is reflective of a friendship that is growing despite the ire directed at the so called 'megalomaniac' PM.

 |  Write Stuff  |  5-minute read |   19-04-2015
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During the Republic Day visit of President Barack Obama to India – the “bromance” between Prime Minister  Modi  and POTUS was evident for all to see. But apparently not to the Congress, who seemed to have donned blinders and had just one point of focus – Narendra Modi, to the exception of all else.

Friendship

During this time, Digvijaya Singh weighed in on the momentousness of the visit between these two world leaders, in the unusual speak that nowadays elevates petty jibing to commentary – that often masquerades itself as a calibrated response. At that time, Singh’s comment (as reported in the national dailies) was that it was Modi’s “megalomania” that had emboldened him to dare to address POTUS as “Barack” when the latter had not returned the favour by referring to Prime Minister Modi as exactly that.

This comment, delivered with indignation, didn’t account for POTUS’s perception. It also made the already beleaguered Congress, be perceived as whining self-entitled guests at a wedding, who were not being invited to sit at the main party’s table. Nevertheless, table seatings aside, during the course of the visit, Mrs Gandhi was rightfully given a seat at the head table and treated most graciously, as shown by the photographs and videos from the dinner hosted by the President. But Ms Manners – Congress, continued to thrash about in social indignation.

As it turns out, a few months later, Barack has returned the favour of the PM’s warmth by writing a 166-word short piece on "Narendra", for Time list of the 100 most influential people in the world. What better way to announce a friendship, and yes one that rests on a first name basis? Having worked with Time for a few years, I gleaned interesting insights into how this iconic magazine works. For starters, the selection of Narendra Modi as one of the most influential people in the world would have been awell earned one. Furthermore the choice of Obama as his biographer would have been made after much deliberation and ready acquiescence from the intended writer, in this case POTUS. Obama’s would have possibly been the top name on the wish list of possible writers on PM Modi. His agreeing to do it is as important as the words he writes on Modi. After all there are other world leaders who could have done the same, Prime Minister Abe (Japan) and Prime Minister Abbott (Australia) would have been valid choices as well given their personal rapport with the prime minister, also their inclusion would have added to the diversity of contributors.

That Obama wrote on Modi is reflective of a friendship that is growing despite the ire directed at the so called “megalomaniac” PM. Also, what is obvious is that this is an association that is being noticed by professional watchers, who don’t possess an agenda that goes one way or the other. If anything the visit of President Obama paved the way for an easing of interaction that many would have believed impossible, especially for a “megalomaniac.” After all wasn’t this the same country that had denied the current prime minister of India a visa?

Elitism

But Modi’s nation-first dictum extended to himself, removing the individual from the office, he responded as his office behooved him to. It was a gesture of grace that exceeds any petty social niceties that have to do with how people address each other.

But since that point was made across forums, its repudiation must be highlighted, seeing that it has been enunciated with unambiguity by the casual use of the first name by President Obama – whose every word in that short bio would have been weighed and chosen. So if the reader gets the impression that this is a friend writing about a friend and a colleague, then let it be understood that this is exactly what was intended.

It is hard to ignore the latent elitist commentary PM Modi’s interaction with world leaders continues to attract. This was evident from the “Louis Vuitton” shawl controversy. The fact that this man from humble origins could sit at the head table, caused the toastmasters of yore to take such exception that they could not tell their brands apart. A social boo-boo like none other in “elite” circles. Then, their claims that Louis Vuitton was a “secretary’s brand” in brand hungry China and other parts of the world that take fashion “seriously”, added greater mirth to their hasty conclusions.

Overtures

The superficiality of the commentary died a quick death because of an official denial from LV. But brand Modi solidified, with the PM wearing the offending shawl yet again, and breaking that most treasured of fashion rules – of never repeating an item of clothing.

One has to wonder if the PM, known for his adept jugglery of perception and baiting, deliberately made a sartorial choice to show up his critics and their frivolous preoccupation with clothes? But fashion, Emily Post recommended manners and propriety aside, real work continued with India’s foreign policy getting a boost, prompting even reticent North Korea to make friendly overtures and angle for a spot at Modi’s table.

So the chaiwala and vegetarian from Gujarat, who survived on lime water during banquets in his honour, delivered a sure footed message – despite his “upstarty” ways as claimed by critics – that when it comes to making friends, be yourself and don’t give in to peer pressure. Are you listening, kids? Let’s raise a toast to that!

Writer

Advaita Kala Advaita Kala @advaitakala

The writer is a screenwriter and a columnist.

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