Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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Narendra Modi government believes that if you put a new label on something, it automatically becomes yours.

It took an innocuous tweet from a foreign leader to remind us all of the extent to which, instead of being a game-changing government, the BJP has turned out to be a name-changing one.

On 31 October, President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea tweeted: “Prime Minister @narendramodi of India sent me some gorgeous garments. These are modernized versions of traditional Indian costume, known as the ‘Modi Vest’, that can also be worn easily in Korea. They fit perfectly.”

In a follow-up tweet, he added: “During my visit to India, I had told the Prime Minister @narendramodi that he looked great in those vests, and he duly sent them over, all meticulously tailored to my size. I would like to thank him for this kind gesture.” They were accompanied by photographs of the Modi gift, prominently labelled “Modi jacket”.

Twitter, of course, is an unforgiving medium. Within minutes, the Twitterverse had erupted with reminders that the vests that had the Korean President over the Moon had been known for decades in India – under a different name. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah put it pithily: “It’s really nice of our PM to send these but could he not have sent them without changing the name? All my life I’ve known these jackets as Nehru jackets & now I find these ones have been labelled ‘Modi Jacket’. Clearly nothing existed in India before 2014.”

It’s a seemingly trivial issue, but it speaks to a defining characteristic of the current ruling dispensation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spent a good deal of energy in claiming that everything worth being proud of in India is due entirely to him. According to his many speeches, Indians were even ashamed of their Indian passports before he became Prime Minister. Now that he was in charge, he has declared more than once that Indians abroad were finally able to hold their heads high and be proud of being Indians.


Also read: Raje renames ‘Muslim sounding’ villages: Communal politics or standing up for majority?


But what about everything that had been accomplished before his ascent to office? Modi’s answer is simple: he simply appropriates it. India unified by Congress stalwart Sardar Patel? Build a gigantic statue to honour the man, and invite no member of the Sardar’s party to grace the occasion. India managing to put a satellite in orbit around Mars? Make a vainglorious speech claiming credit for the accomplishment without even mentioning the Prime Minister who had started India’s space programme, or acknowledging that 99 per cent of the work that led to the successful Mangalyaan mission had been completed before he came to power.

The ‘Modi vests’ are a minor example of the same phenomenon. They reflect that appropriation of national successes is best done through an adroit change of name. If you put a new label on something, it automatically becomes yours. The fact that it had existed and succeeded under another name can thus be erased from the popular consciousness.

It is striking that the only successes the Modi government can point to are schemes that were initiated by the UPA and often criticised at the time by the opposition BJP. One can start with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MNREGA (which the PM sneered at, but now seeks credit for increasing its funding, even though states complain the promised subventions from the Centre have not come). There’s Aadhaar (which Modi vowed to dismantle but has instead made compulsory, in many cases, linking it to such things as credit cards and mobile phones that often have no links to government benefits). The list goes on.


Also read: The Modi government is the most faceless, nameless & talent-averse India has seen


But the largest number of examples involve, like the ‘Modi jacket’, a change of name – from the Direct Benefits Transfer, attractively renamed Jan Dhan (as if the BJP had not criticised its adoption), to the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, now packaged as ‘Swachh Bharat’ (with lower outgoes but five times the publicity budget). The UPA’s skill development mission has been renamed the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana; the National e-Governance Plan is now ‘Digital India’; the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana has been rebaptised as the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana; the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme has become the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana; and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission has been shrunk to Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. All this while the Modi government pretends that these are all new schemes launched from the imagination of its visionary leader.

One must concede that the Modi government creates better acronyms than its predecessors did – AMRUT is markedly more euphonious than JNNURM, for instance – but it cannot demonstrate better results on the ground. And let’s not forget the schemes where the Modi government simply sheepishly took on the UPA’s ongoing efforts without even risking a change of name – FDI in retail, the Financial Inclusion Scheme, liberalisation of insurance and GST (Goods and Services Tax) itself, all of which the BJP had ferociously opposed and now wants to be congratulated for adopting.


Also read: 4 years of Modi rule convinced me that we need presidential system: Shashi Tharoor


What’s in a name?, Shakespeare famously asked. But Yogi Adityanath wasn’t listening: he has renamed Allahabad Prayagraj. It may not be long before this feckless government seeks to rebaptise the Taj Mahal under its so-called “original” name of Tejo Mahalaya. They are asserting their power, the power to decide what a thing will be, the power to name — for if one does not have the ability to create anything new, one can at least claim the right to relabel what one now seeks to appropriate.

The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 17 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is ‘Why I am a Hindu’. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor.

Separate fact from fiction, the real from the fake going viral on social media, on HoaXposed .


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16 COMMENTS

  1. Modi ji at least has the greatness to realize that greatness is somehow connected with originality. So he keeps groping for original ideas, and in the process appropriates some of others.

    About this jacket thing, I think we should remember and salute not Nehru but some Unknown Tailor who thought it up; there were none in the olden days who carried the snooty title of a “designer” as we have today. (Most of the modern apparel “designers” are also in Modi ji’s boat — in desperate search for originality they keep verging on the weird. The “ramp” walkers that I sometimes see on TV appear to be straight out of a loony bin, with the Chief Loony lurking somewhere among the crowd, looking proud for some weird reason!)

    In another article on THE PRINT by Kumar Ketkar a few days ago, I had commented that I see Modi ji turning to writing and “speaking” after 2019 ( in the manner of U.S. presidents who take to the “speech circuit” after retirement.) THERE, believe it or not, Modi ji will discover both originality and greatness. Anyone can take my word for it.

  2. Many programmes mentioned started by Vajpayee Government and Congress appropriated it and gave Nehru, Indira name. Aadhar was conceptualized by Vajpayee government GST was also original Idea of Vajpayee Government. It also to be seen what was the success of these programmes during UPA days. GST never came about because of arrogance of Chidambaram not willing to accommodate manufacturing states like TN Maharashtra and Gujarat etc. 2% CST was one more sticky issue where states were not ready to believe the center.. All these issues were sorted out by NDA by willing to be accommodative and not being arrogant. Congress having been in power for so long definitely should have thought about these programmes (No credit can be given for that) and as public we have not heard of any of those programmes mentioned by you during congress days. . Nirmal abhiyan was name given what was achieved. At least now I see lot of drive for cleanliness. So don’t keep reminding people you started the programme it was Modi who effectively implemented those. Only when successfully implemented people recognise the programme and not when it is in papers like Nirmal Abhiyan. DBT was not named as Jandhan. How ignorant you could be.

  3. Read a column by Shoaib Daniyal a couple of days back in Scroll. In, highlighting the role Lord Mountbatten played in the integration of the princely states. The notion that five hundred odd states could opt for independence was crazy to begin with, in any case, as everyone must have soon realised. So perhaps we should not have this romantic idea that one man did it all by himself, without any help from his Prime Minister, the Cabinet, some outstanding mandarins. By the same token, what was once India’s largest political party need not slavishly place everything at the feet of one dynasty, either, Such a large nation does not belong to one individual, who claims credit for all its achievements. These India is Indira, etc stories do not have happy endings.

  4. Sir….. what is the point in complaining on an English news digital platform. If you can, congress should fight this on ground and take the message to people instead.

    S V Patel – Why has not congress claimed him in the past? You are always highlighting Nehru – Gandhi family. His name was up for grabs and BJP is appropriating the same. Because congress will be busy promoting Nehru / Gandhi family, don’t be surprised if this happens to PVN and even MMS few decades from now.

    Swacch Bharat Programme – You may be right in saying that Nirmal Bharat always existed. Please go around and ask how many people knew about Nirmal Bharat. It was run like a bureaucratic programme with no political ownership. BJP gave this program the publicity it required and Modi lent his name to the programme. Everybody in India knows about Swacch Bharat now including school kids. Awareness levels are much higher.

    Same is true for many other points mentioned above. If you ever have a smarter & popular leader like Modi in future, believe me, congress will do the same.

  5. Modi is not an educated person he & his party opposed to BSP Mayawati for using the public fund but today his party is copying something good idea from BSP , what modi knows was how do criticized opponent

  6. When it comes to raising right questions and bringing it to the notice of all and making us think, Mr Tharoor really leaves a fair image of himself as a People’s person . Is it really worth to spend money time efforts by our Power people for 1)Changing names of Cities, places, monuments,2) Creating Tall statues b it for Sardar or Mahatma that cannot be anything more than a visual pleasure. Ask a poor man or a unemployed person with a burden of a family that whether they try to get some seconds to stop near that statue seeit as a symbol of developing India.?3) What is there in the name , correct. But will even a begger wud like to be known by a different name of his parent than his. Why . Leave ask self will we not be hurt if we are addressed wrongly even if we may not be a Elite or famous person. Why so much of enemity like speech / comment on Tharoor for som questions which r genuine concerns to b addressed for the longterm effectiveness & preservation of our secular India. His question why not a statue build simply doesnot mean he is emphazing on building another statue even if for Bapu. Even if it means that there is definitely one thing that shud make us think_ do we want more & more Statues.? Likewise when he talks about name change why take it negatively only as if it is bcoz he is in Congress & he is talking for Gandhi’s. R v going to sideline every genuine concern raised by a educated person on such grounds. Is his personal life / 4 times married means all what he says is ill intended. And if at all he has married 4 times or 10 times, how is it going to make all his questions wrong. Everyone has a personal life which they manage as per their life. Does our PM leaving his wedded wife not at all mistake .R u all sure it was for social welfare & not bcoz of anyother personal distaste.If that is not of our concern nor wrong then please dont drag Mr Tharoor’s personal life into his work platform particularly with a hatred that makes us ignore many valuable points he raise.

  7. You showed Shashi Tharoor’s qualifications and posts held but didn’t mention that he is accused in murder of his wife and he has taste for women which include a journalist from Pakistan. This left your introduction incomplete

  8. Modi may be remembered is history as name cheater. If he claims he got built statue – he should consider Mayawati of UP as her Guru. She built many more, in hundreds during her terms of Dr. Ambedkar, her election symbol – Elephant, her Guru Kashi Ram and above all of herself. Patel was a National Leader with a very wide outlook of events and knowing pulse of people. RSS/Modi should not try to belittle him with their so called rift theory of Nehru-Patel. They was Two man, One Soul, One game player – The Freedom of the Country.

  9. I don’t agree with Tharoor. Our Prime Minister is really a game changer. He has changed the practice of Prime Ministers calling press conferences, Prime Ministers attending Parliament sessions, Prime Ministers not speaking blatant lies, Prime Ministers behaving in a dignified manner, Prime Ministers respecting science as a discipline different from religious myths, Prime Ministers speaking about their own work and not endlessly blaming previous governments, Prime Ministers empathizing with farmers and the poor, and in so many other ways. How can you say that he is not a game changer?

  10. Well said Sashi.

    Surely the uneducated lout has a stage manner and native cunning. His ambition is written on the sleeve of his sartorial narcissism.

    Futher, he has a shallow bench of intellect, kept on a tight leash.

    Departure from secularism and the rise of fundamentalism is to me the most threatening manifestation of the evil that lurks below the surface; cloaked in saffron.

    The lotus often blooms in dirty water.
    Is India such a cesspool?

  11. Accused of murder of his wife lectures on ethics and morality?
    Is it not ridiculous the bunch of journalists forming this Web Page”The Print” has decided to publish this article?
    If Modi hatred reaches this level we are compelled to think whether this is a sponsored News Paper by a political party? These were the journalist demanding removal of Akbar from Ministry. Where has their morality and ethics gone ?

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