Gentle, demure, soft, but then that's just not our tune , is it? | columns | Hindustan Times
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Gentle, demure, soft, but then that's just not our tune , is it?

columns Updated: Jun 13, 2015 23:25 IST
Narendra Modi


The prime minister and I have at least one thing in common: we both like blowing our trumpets! Quite frankly, I can’t deny it’s music to my ears. I’m pretty sure he likes the sound for much the same reason too.

So what follows is not really criticism of Narendra Modi but an example of how our trumpets can, unwittingly no doubt, produce discordant and even, at times, embarrassing notes. It’s happened to me often enough.

Now it’s happened to Mr Modi as well.

Last Sunday in a public speech in Dhaka, broadcast live on television, Mr Modi compared the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh to the fall of the Berlin Wall. No doubt this is a unique solution to an unprecedented problem but is it in any way comparable to the reunification of Germany, which the collapse of the Berlin Wall established?

No, very definitely not. The significance of the collapse of the Wall lies in the fact it fulfilled the wish of East and West Germans to unite. Bangladeshis and Indians have no such desire. That, itself, is a fundamental difference.

There are, however, others as well. In opposition, the BJP was against the LBA. Even in office, it initially wanted to keep Assam out of its purview. But, most importantly of all, last year Mr Modi campaigned with a pledge to accept Hindu refugees from Bangladesh whilst deeming Muslims to be illegal and promising to deport them.

No West German would have spoken of his brothers in the East in that way. That’s why you can’t compare the LBA to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

However, Mr Modi went one critical step further. He said: “yahi ghatna duniya ke kissi aur bhu-bhag me hota to vishwa me badi charcha ho jati. Pata nahi Nobel Prize deneke liye raste khole jate. Hume koi nahi poochega kyunke hum gareeb desh ke log hain.”

Now, there are two issues here. First, the prime minister was suggesting that he — and, no doubt, Sheikh Hasina — deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. But do they?

If at all the people behind the LBA should be so honoured — and that’s hugely contestable — then, surely, the list should include Dr Manmohan Singh, who first thought of it and would have succeeded had the BJP not deliberately checked him? But perhaps also Mamata Banerjee for not throwing a spanner in the works? And, conceivably, Begum Zia for welcoming the LBA and not protesting against it?

Second, what about Mr Modi’s claim “hume koi nahi poochega kyunke hum gareeb desh ke log hain”? This was, of course, a dig at the Nobel Committee and, once again, it’s flat wrong.

On many occasions the prize has gone to citizens of a “gareeb desh”. Just last year, when Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai got it; in 2006, when Bangladesh’s Muhammad Yunus was the winner; and, at least, on 11 other occasions when it went to citizens of Burma, China, East Timor, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Kenya, Liberia, Palestine, South Africa, Vietnam and Yemen.

Now, back to Mr Modi’s trumpet — or mine, if you prefer! The problem is the wretched thing always sounds like a boast. And boasts are as likely to put up backs as they are likely to invite applause.

If only the prime minister and I had an instrument that sounds gentle, demure and soft, thus encouraging others to boast on our behalf. I’m told it’s called humility. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to play it.

(The views expressed are personal)