The Narendra Modi government’s second anniversary celebrations were remarkable, both for what was showcased in terms of achievements and also for what wasn’t.
To begin with, there were few who talked about his exploits on foreign shores. Remember external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s elaborate presentation last year?
She had spoken at length about India’s “very successful” engagements with the world having connected with 101 countries. She spoke about Indo-Pak relations, Modi’s visit to Nepal, the first by an Indian prime minister in 15 years and so on.
Swaraj is not media savvy any more, but she was conspicuous by her absence from the panel of 25 Union ministers who spoke of the NDA’s achievements at Doordarshan’s five-hour extravaganza at India Gate on Saturday evening.
So was home minister Rajnath Singh. He, however, did his bit in an interview earlier in the day, asserting that the PM’s “56-inch chest” hadn’t shrunk an inch when it came to tackling Pakistan.
This time, the Modi government chose not to showcase its diplomatic triumphs ignoring sustained criticism from the opposition for its perceived failures, especially in the context of Modi’s sudden stopover in Lahore last December, which was followed by a terror attack on the Pathankot airbase.
The event that capped the celebrations instead aimed at showcasing Modi government’s flagship schemes that benefited the poor, the farmers, and women and youth, BJP leaders say. For five hours, the televised gala, ‘Ek Nayi Subah’ (a new dawn), was centered on these issues.
Discussions ranged from skill development, menstrual hygiene in the absence of toilet facilities in schools and Digital India to crops insurance and soil health card.
However, the mélange of politics, business, glamour and entertainment, meant to keep audience riveted, ran the risk of giving the impression of razzle dazzle.
The show seemed to suggest that the Centre’s flagship programmes were getting traction in NDA-ruled states only. Individual beneficiaries and places where these schemes were rolled out successfully were mostly in states or cities led by the BJP – e-boats in Varanasi, Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency, cleanliness at Surat’s railway station, and a village in BJP-ruled Jharkhand that got electricity for the first time with another village in BJP-ruled Maharashtra, to name a few.
There were two references to opposition-ruled Karnataka and Bihar – Mysore railway station for facilities for visually impaired people and a woman from Gaya for responding to the Digital India campaign; both constituencies are represented by BJP MPs.
When Modi addressed a rally at RSS ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay’s birthplace, Mathura, to mark his first year at the Centre, the message was lost on none. This time, the Prime Minister chose to address a rally at Saharanpur. According to BJP leaders, it also conveyed a subtle message: a large portion of the rally site, including the stage from where the PM addressed the people, belonged to Muslims.
During Saturday’s gala, a village headman from Meghalya didn’t get the chance to speak from a Guwahati studio. The link was abruptly snapped as a minister in BJP-ruled Assam kept talking about chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. He obviously didn’t get the cue from Union ministers, especially Rajiv Pratap Rudy who started his sentences with, “Pradhan mantyri ke netritva mein… (under Prime Minister’s leadership)”. Subtle indeed.