Everybody has been taking pot shots at the prime minister lately. I was initially torn between my professional desire to clamber aboard this new bandwagon and admiration for the way in which the PM mumbles into his beard. But Barrack Obama changed all that.
Obama recently swam with his younger daughter Sasha in the Gulf of Mexico to prove that the oil spill there was history. As I looked at the pictures, the thought uppermost in my mind was: would Manmohanji also don his swimming trunks and frolic in the Arabian Sea at Chowpatty beach in Mumbai to show that the danger from our little oil spill too was over?
I knew it wasn’t easy. You dip your toes in the water and find it too cold and the temptation is to invent all sorts of excuses to put off the plunge. I tried to alert the PM, through a guy who claimed to know him, that the best strategy would be to start running before he hit the water. That way, the momentum carries you waist-deep into the sea before you realise it. There would be no danger, because the PM would be surrounded by Black Cat commandos bathing with him. But although I waited with bated breath, the PM showed no signs of reaching for his swimming briefs.
That was when I started having serious doubts about him. Could his commandos, bashful of being seen in their swimming trunks, possibly polka-dotted, have scuttled the plan? At the very least, the PM could have soothed our fears about contaminated fish being sold in the Mumbai markets by a well-publicised lunch on Juhu beach in which he heartily tucked into Bombay duck and crab. But Manmohanji failed miserably to rise to the occasion.
Compare the resolve shown by British agriculture minister John Gummer decades ago when he tried to feed a beefburger to his four-year old daughter at the height of the mad cow disease to prove that the public’s fears were unfounded. His daughter had too much sense to eat it and although Gummer claimed he took a bite, his detractors said the photos were faked and an unhappy civil servant had been forced to bite the burger. Manmohanji too could have done something similar. He could, for instance, have asked Montekji, the Planning Commission boss, to eat the fish. But the PM did absolutely nothing. Naturally, it shook my faith in him.
Or consider what happened in Sochi, Russia recently. The place has been chosen as the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics. President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin were filmed skiing on the slopes there, in a publicity move that attracted attention to the event. Maybe it would be too much to expect Manmohanji to put on running shorts and sneakers and do a lap around a stadium built for the Commonwealth Games. But he could at least have done a token hop-step-and-jump. That would have inspired his ministers. Who knows, Chidambaram might then have invited the Maoists to participate in the boxing events, provided they abjured violence, of course.
The world over, leaders are doing all kinds of things. Putin personally puts out forest fires, Berlusconi lends his voice to a TV ad extolling the beauties of Italy, South African president Jacob Zuma has three wives and 20 children and Wyclef Jean, who has filed his candidacy papers for becoming president of Haiti, is a hip-hop star. Our PM must learn from them.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint. The views expressed by the author are personal.