Modi in the US: The Perfect PR Exercise

There are those who will tell you that nothing has changed in the few months that Modi has been in power, that things have gone on just as before, no hiccups, thank you very much.

And yet, every time you switch on the television or flip the day’s newspaper open, you will be told that Modi, the doer Prime Minister who won with an absolute majority, has actually changed, well, everything. Look at him walk- how resolute he is. See how women fawn over him-such a charmer. Did you say 56 inch chest? And that charismatic way he speaks, reminiscent of the great Churchill, don’t you think? .

This illusion of something urgently underway at the country’s top office is shoved into our minds on a daily basis. For it is an illusion, isn’t it? Unless you think Modi had something to do with India’s Mars mission, (and if that is the case I suggest you abandon reading this essay right now) there hasn’t quite been even a drunk sighting of the much-hyped “achche din”. Modi’s career as PM so far has been nothing more than a series choreographed photo-ops with the right faces. In America, with his hectic schedule and self proclaimed badge of honour of not having taken “even a 15 minute vacation” we are told, by Headlines Today in this case, that Modiji is “a rockstar”.

This week, he charmed the audience at the UN who apparently gave him quite a resounding and thunderous applause and standing ovation. Gruelling twitter investigations later revealed that only the Indian members of the audience were the ones jumping up and down clapping while the dignitaries from other countries looked at their faces wondering what the hell was wrong with them.

No, he didn’t speak about problems that actually plague India, such as poverty, unemployment, gender and communal violence, and instead chose to say that he was unwilling to initiate peace talks with Pakistan under the threat of terrorism. Oh, and how Yoga is awesome. At a huge platform such as the United Nations General Assembly, our prime minister spoke about coming together to celebrate an International Yoga Day.

His speech today at Madison Square Garden was not very redemptive either. As news channels played hormonal cheerleaders to Modi’s every move, the man himself delivered a well rehearsed speech using the same catch phrases he had previously used in Japan and Nepal, to a predominantly wealthy and right wing NRI crowd, eager to hear the PM claim them all as Indians who had much to contribute to the homeland. This mutually beneficial back scratching on an international stage was televised for us humble cynics and critics who watched as India/Hindustan was repeatedly only addressed as Bharat. The crowd waved and smiled for the cameras while Modi bhakts verbally and physically attacked Rajdeep Sardesai just outside the venue.

Here are the things he actually spoke about:

  • “Mohanlal” Gandhi’s insistence on cleanliness and how Modi would work towards a clean India.
  • Visa problems faced by NRIs and PIOs.
  • The technologically brilliant Indian youngsters.
  • Investment into project “Make in India”.

What the media failed to report was that there were massive protests in New York against Modi and the role he played in the Gujarat riots of 2002. Instead of straining a critical and analytical lens on the PM’s words and deeds, as is usually the case when such diplomatic trips take place, the media played the role of a needy sycophant, much too keen to please and praise.

It’s time to switch off that television, for good.

The article was first published in Newsyaps in September 2014. The website has since shut down.

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