It is in Modi’s interest to push a Modi vs The Rest narrative, and keep the opposition off-kilter so that it isn’t able to push its own regional strengths.
Challenge accepted, Virat! I will be sharing my own #FitnessChallenge video soon. @imVkohli #HumFitTohIndiaFit https://t.co/qdc1JabCYb
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 24, 2018
It was only a matter of time before Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fitness buff, was drawn into Virat Kohli’s fitness challenge via Rajyavardhan Rathore’s #HumFitTohIndiaFit (watch all the ministers who’ve taken the challenge so far, @ManojTiwariMP, @jayantsinha, @KirenRijiju or even the former Olympian @Ra_THOR, all wearing formal shoes and clothes while belting out various versions of the ‘suryanamaskar’ in their offices, and all retweeted by @narendramodi), thus opening the door to Rahul Gandhi’s taunt:
“Dear PM, Glad to see you accept the @imVkohli fitness challenge. Here’s one from me: Reduce Fuel prices or the Congress will do a nationwide agitation and force you to do so. I look forward to your response. #FuelChallenge
Glad to see you accept the @imVkohli fitness challenge. Here’s one from me:
Reduce Fuel prices or the Congress will do a nationwide agitation and force you to do so.
I look forward to your response.#FuelChallenge
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 24, 2018
Rahul is naturally upbeat these days, having bested Modi and Amit Shah’s political challenge in Karnataka – the PM has maintained a lofty silence on the loss of face in the southern state earlier this week. Much more fun to be photographed with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his Bocharov Creek summer residence on the Black Sea resort of Sochi, taking a boat ride with Putin, visiting a school for gifted kids with Putin and watching Russian craftsmen play musical instruments for himself and Putin. See the video here
The day-long Russian detour earlier this week certainly brought the smile back on the face of the Prime Minister. Of the eight hours he spent in Sochi, six-and-a-half hours were spent with the Russian president. Putin went out of his way to embrace the PM, both metaphorically as well as literally, evoking memories of the good old days of ‘Hindi-Russi bhai-bhai’. With India promising to pay Russia $4.5 billion for several S-400 air defence systems, Delhi could have demanded any colour of the carpet and got it.
A single tweet by the PM congratulating the new chief minister of Karnataka, @hd_kumaraswamy and his deputy, @DrParameshwara, went out the afternoon the JD(S) and the Congress formed the government. This is the first time in four years that the BJP has lost such a closely contested election. It was left to the PM’s close aide and confidante, BJP president Amit Shah, to ask what the Congress was celebrating. “A party with a history of dismissing more than 50 governments by abusing Article 356 has no moral right to preach us on democracy,” Shah said.
But if the PM’s demonstrated ambition in these last four years is anything to go by, he will quickly learn his lessons from Karnataka. He will do his best to prevent the opposition from forging unity and take the focus away from a presidential-style election in 2019. It is in Modi’s interest to push a Modi Vs The Rest narrative, and keep the opposition off-kilter so that it isn’t able to push its own regional strengths.
Modi’s divide-and-rule strategy is likely to play out over the next 12 months, as the country counts down to the general elections. BJP spokespersons will ask again and again, whether Rahul Gandhi will be a challenger to Modi? Or, if the face of the united Opposition will be Sharad Pawar or Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati or AkhileshYadav or…? The BJP under Modi will try and portray the Opposition as a jaded and even more fragmented 2018 version of 1996 – when Kumaraswamy’s father, Deve Gowda, became the prime minister for just over ten months.
The PM’s fondness for the right clothes at the right time is legendary. In Sochi, like in Wuhan, he was dressed in tight churidar-kurta that would make Jawaharlal Nehru proud. On the weekend before, as he delivered the chief guest speech at the convocation ceremony of the Sher-e-Kashmir agricultural university in Jammu – speaking on matters like artificial intelligence and the importance of the block chain – the PM wore red velvet and golden-bordered robes and a red velvet square hat with a golden tassel called a “mortarboard.”
It seems the mortarboard is based on the ‘biretta’ hat worn by the Roman Catholic clergy in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was worn by students and artists in the great medieval universities of Europe – several of these universities didn’t have buildings, so they met in unheated churches, wearing long gowns and caps for warmth.
Wonder if someone told the PM that the antecedents of his gown-and-cap lays claim to the Roman Catholic clergy? By pure coincidence, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, in a well-publicised letter to all churches in capital this week, appealed to them to begin a campaign of prayers and fasting in the hope that they can alleviate the “turbulent political atmosphere” threatening democracy and secularism.
In the wake of a backlash starring RSS leader Rakesh Sinha and BJP spokesperson N.C. Shaina, Couto retracted quickly, saying “This has nothing to do with the Modi government.”
In a tough week, better to take time off and do some yoga. The NaMo website, www.narendramodi.in, has two this week – Pawanmuktasana and Setubandhasan.