Howdy Modi, optics yes, but mattered too
It’s 21.40 IST. Howdy, Modi? “Mitron, I’m Back. And doing great. India is overwhelmed by the reception that Houston and United States has accorded. Everything is fine, back home”. To imprint that Unity in Diversity was India’s strength, he repeated it in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada et al. And his reciprocal introduction of Donald Trump to ‘Modi’s family’ was sheer class. Orator, communicator par excellence.
Well, ask the Congress led opposition. They would respond in fury. They were decimated in 2014. Modi 1.0, they thought was a one-term wonder. The way the friendly Lutyens’ and Khan Market log’s media made it out, Rahul Gandhi was convinced that it was ‘Goodbye, Modi’. The alliance of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, they convinced themselves, had the chemistry, biology, physics, history, geography to deliver on Maths. Alas, not to be. Modi 2.0 was back with 303.
Chandrababu Naidu worked ceaselessly by logging maximum miles Around The World in Less than 80 days with Didi Mamta and DMK leader Stalin, for company. Well, Naidu lost, even his home turf, Mamtaji suffered huge setbacks and Stalin alone could stop the wave from swamping them all. Rahul insistently yielded to Mummy as President of Congress. The visceral hatred Trinamool and BJP had for each other, crushed the Communists to smithereens, leaving them with little to celebrate.
Modi 2.0 majority in the Lower House was unprecedented. Modi 1.0 was noted for Goods and Services Tax, Demonetisation (both of which were heavily blamed for the slowdown in the economy), Insolvency & Bankruptcy legislation (a huge dent on crony capitalism with many an enterprise unable to continue on bank largesse). But, the absence of numbers in Rajya Sabha was a huge handicap. The legislative dreams could not be realised. The ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ jibe from Rahul Gandhi stopped Modi in his tracks, in ‘cosying up to the corporates’ to ease the doing of business.
The lessons were well learnt. Modi 2.0 was a different genie let loose from the same bottle. Ministers worked overtime, in the Parliamentary corridors, to ensure majority for their legislations to be rolled out, in an assembly line. With a firm hand, foot and full bodied approach, NDA faced the first session of Parliament.
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, Chairman Rajya Sabha was effusive in his praise, on the legislative record set in Parliament- 21 legislations, including Triple Talaq. Stunning statistics. The opposition was silenced. All the noise and hoopla was from the Treasury Benches. The opposition could only moan and mourn the Government was ‘misusing its majority to rush through statutes’. Modi 2.0 had no time to stop, stare, listen and yield. They were in a tearing hurry and that showed.
Come Aug 5th, 2019, India was in for a huge and iconic change. In its 70 plus years, since India became a Republic, it saw history being made. And How? (dy). Amit Shah, the new Home Minister, moved the Presidential proclamation, to remove the vestiges of Art.370, granting special status to Jammu & Kashmir and annulling Art.35A, from the Constitution, in its wake. And that with a 2/3rds majority in Rajya Sabha. Followed by 2/3rd plus vote in Lok Sabha. The debate was open and transparent for the world to see.
Congress party was split from the top. Other opposition parties hardly mattered, as many, including Mayawati, Navin Patnaik, joined the Modi bandwagon. Pakistan fumed. India beamed. International community was innoculated by Modi’s diplomacy team, and ignored Imran Khan’s protestations as ravings and rantings of a ‘selected PM’, as his opponents designate him.
And when Howdy, Modi? became real, it resonated with every Indian ,from the diaspora, 4.5 million strong ,to the nation. The opposition taunted that he was back to flying abroad and logging miles when Indian economy was slowing down and needed desperate doses of energy. Modi 2.0 responded with automobile and real estate specific measures. Reserve Bank of India eased interest rates and tax terrorism was sidelined. Modi 2.0 was not finished. They had more up their sleeve.
A huge 1.47 lakh crore tax related infusion of capital into the economy, on the eve of his departure to US was greeted overwhelmingly by the corporates. SENSEX and NIFTY zoomed to stratosphere. Opposition cried foul. Modi called it ‘Historic and growth oriented’. After the Jandhan bank accounts , Direct Benefit Transfer of subsidies, with no leakage, gas cylinders to rural sisters, construction of low cost housing, village electrification, building of toilets, Swachh Bharat, Ayushman benefit on health care to the poor and marginalised sections of society, Modi 2.0 was ready to debunk the ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ diatribe, lock, stock and barrel.
It is in this backdrop, when Howdy, Modi happened, to greet the Prime Minister of the largest democracy, that Donald J Trump, leader of the free world and oldest democracy, joined Modi. Donald J Trump, on a nonstop campaign mode, since 2015, when he came down the escalator of Trump Towers, in New York ,to announce his candidature as POTUS, is not one to miss such a reality television opportunity. When an assembly of ‘500/1000 is a huge crowd’ in US, a congregation of 50,000 plus screaming Indian Americans, was a dream for Trump. Indian American community, has a Democratic Party leaning and Trump loved to tweak the Modi connect to help his cause for a re election in 2020. Trump tucked into his pet themes on immigration and strong economy, as if to each ‘voter’ in the audience.
Trump’s immigration policy has been harsh. It has hit the Indian diaspora too. The withdrawal of special status under Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) in Indo-US trade deal has also been the subject of efforts at restoration. Not to forget Trump’s off the cuff remark to offer ‘mediation’ on Kashmir with Pakistan, in the presence of Imran Khan. Trump’s presence mattered .But, the bottom line for Trump was pure politics. He would like the rub of saffron on the Republican Red in 2020.
But, let’s be clear. Howdy, Modi? may be, no big deal in dollar or rupee terms. But Optics matter. America is the richest nation. They matter in global politics and world economy. We need not be deferential. But simply accept that We Have Arrived On the International Stage. On our own. And Modi matters too. He is undeniably a loved leader back home. Those who despise him have their own reasons and they are entitled to their views. That is the beauty of a functional and chaotic democracy Bharat is. Howdy, Modi? was nothing but a celebration of India, show stopper in Bollywood style, and if it was hagiographic and exploitative, that too is India, Mitron.
The biggest take away was Trump’s use of the dreaded ‘I’ word- Islamic Terrorism and India’s ‘continuing border problems’. The standing ovation that followed must have warmed the hearts of every Indian, and sent a shiver down the spine of our neighbour’s diplomats. And then, when Modi spoke the lovable ‘K’ word- Kashmir-, the massive crowd brought the roof down. Message was loud and clear. Indo-US strategic partnership was now not merely ‘history in the making’ as Modi alluded to, but history made.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan, Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)