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Like him or not, Modi is the prince of political drama everyone is compelled to watch

Within the space of 48 hours, Modi projected himself as a strong leader who attacks the opposition with fury & a sensitive statesman moved to tears by compassion.

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If you harboured any doubts about why Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to soar above all comers on the popularity charts, despite misgivings over his management of the economy, the farmers’ protests, the coronavirus pandemic, his government’s record on civil rights, freedom of expression and communal politics — leave them outside the gates of Parliament.

Those of us who watched his speeches in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, on three successive occasions — Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday — witnessed his consummate artistry as a politician. Within the space of 48 hours, we encountered Modi the strong and decisive leader, Modi the gracious and sensitive statesman moved to tears by compassion and camaraderie, and Modi the fiery politician who attacked the opposition with histrionic fury.

The first speech — his reply to the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha — had television news applaud in admiration his “scathing attack” on the opposition and “andolan jeevis(India Today). The second had them go all gooey over his “emotional” goodbye to Ghulam Nabi Azad. “Modi shows the way,” said Republic TV, “I have never seen this kind of gesture, sentiment…” added anchor Arnab Goswami. And the third in the Lok Sabha, Wednesday, was heralded in awe: “PM rains fire on Oppn/ PM dismantles Oppn stand” (CNN News18).

Some uncharitable people may say that Modi’s “farewell, so long…” to the Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad was “all drama”. But they miss the point: politics is all about drama — and melodrama. It’s about elocution, delivery, and projecting a convincing image. Think of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s flair for the theatrical in his speeches.

At the moment, Modi is the prince of political drama.

Also read: Goodbye Ghulam Nabi Azad — why Congress stayed silent when Modi cried, opponents praised him

A teary, and well documented, goodbye

PM Modi was at his disarming best on Tuesday: he looked across at Azad, spoke generous words of praise, then paused, and let the silence fill the chamber before reaching for a glass of water, swallowing a sip, wiping his eyes, and continuing with his speech in a voice choking back the tears. And then he fetched Azad a salute. In those moments, he held the Rajya Sabha — and his TV audience — in the palm of his hand. Like him or not, you were compelled to watch him.

Whether he was being genuine and personal or simply political doesn’t matter — what matters is that it worked, perhaps beyond his wildest expectations. Not only did Azad thank him profusely, but all Tuesday, news channels replayed the tearful scenes in the Rajya Sabha with headlines such as “PM gets emotional over Azad” (CNN News18) — in fact, without the PM’s salute and tears, Azad would have probably faded into the sunset without much fanfare — at least on the news.

Instead, in the evening, prime time debates actually devoted themselves to Modi-Azad and to topics such as “What do PM’s tears tell us?’’ (News 24). On Wednesday, ABP News and India Ahead interviewed Azad.

Also read: Farm protests ‘sacred’ but andolan jeevis have defiled movement, says Modi in Parliament

How to be a great orator

The Monday and Wednesday speeches in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha showed us a Modi we are accustomed to seeing and hearing in his frequent TV/online appearances: a strong, authoritative leader.

This has been leavened, somewhat, by the image he presented: dressed in all white, with a fine shawl draped across his left shoulder, the white hair now combed into obedient curls at the nape of the neck and the neatly trimmed beard — all give him a faintly other-worldly air, that of an elder statesman. And yes, reminded you of Rabindranath Tagore, as was perhaps the intention.

What skills does he bring to the performance? Like any great orator, he raises and drops his voice, thumps the table, repeats phrases — all to ram home the point.

The speeches were sprinkled with alliterations — “…(we will not) divert, dilute or change direction…”, “(our) content-intent…”; acronyms — FDI for `Foreign Destructive Ideology’, poems, and frequent references to his pet projects — currently, it is “Atmanirbhar Bharat”.

There is also the reiteration of the past. Slogans like “sabka saath, sabka vikas” featured in the Rajya Sabha address just as the recurring themes of development, the poor, and of course the farmer, who dominated his speeches. Not to mention, all the schemes beginning with ‘PM’ that he has launched in the last six years.

Another favourite technique of the PM’s is to quote from historical figures belonging to poll-bound states — nowadays everything is about West Bengal, and so Subhas Chandra Bose and Swami Vivekananda were quoted in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha speeches, respectively.

Above all, PM Modi makes sure to project a positive vision — he speaks of self-confidence and with self-confidence, of ‘garv’ in the country “Yeh Hindustan hai”, its values, its inner strength, a youthful India that is a leader in the comity of nations — so on and so forth.

And then, he slips in the attacks on the opposition, often using the Congress against the Congress — Dr Manmohan Singh’s words on farm reforms were quoted in the Rajya Sabha, National Congress Party Sharad Pawar’s in the Lok Sabha.

Modi also uses self-deprecation and humour — in the Rajya Sabha, he ended his speech by mocking the opposition’s ‘hamla’ on him — enjoy yourself, he exhorted them, at my expense — “Modi hai, mauka lijiye’’ (Modi is there, take a chance).

Compare the PM with the only other leader who is projected on news channels: Rahul Gandhi of the Congress. Doesn’t he strike you as a neophyte, still wet behind the ears, compared to Modi?

If the Congress or opposition is to challenge the BJP, it needs to find its Vajpayee or Modi or else someone who can stand up and deliver – deliver speeches and the audience, the way the PM can.

Are you listening, Mamata Banerjee?

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  1. Mr Azad in his speech mentioned about always being wished on his birthday, Eid, Diwali by Mr Modi and Ms Sonia.
    Mr Modi seems to work towards walking that extra mile in his PR exercise.
    At least appreciate that. Don’t always write with a slant against Mr Modi.

  2. ”Compare the PM with the only other leader who is projected on news channels: Rahul Gandhi of the Congress.”
    Rahul, alias, pappu, is the seventh child of a Ram chhagol.

  3. This was my first time reading your words.I must admit I haven’t read any witty yet to the point article than this.#FAN😎

  4. “Azad would have probably faded into the sunset without much fanfare — at least on the news.”
    Modi respects congress leaders more than the Congress “High Command”. Latest example is Azad but lets not forget Pranab Mukherjee(Bharat Ratna – during Modi’s tenure), Sardar Patel,Lal Bahadur Shastri,etc
    Congress is not even ready to give credit to Manmohan Singh.

    “How to be a great orator “….isn’t being a great orator one of the qualities expected if not mandated for a leader.

    “Another favourite technique of the PM’s is to quote from historical figures belonging to poll-bound states.” This is called being smart. Who is stopping the others from doing the same.

    “If the Congress or opposition is to challenge the BJP, it needs to find its Vajpayee or Modi or else someone who can stand up and deliver – deliver speeches and the audience, the way the PM can.”
    – This is the only point where I agree with the author. No matter how good Modi is, a lopsided team with respect to Democracy isn’t good.

    “Are you listening, Mamata Banerjee?” – And again you have lost me. There are many more good leaders in Congress like Sachin Pilot, Jai Ram Ramesh, prithviraj chauhan, Shashi Tharoor,etc. But for some reasons(if you know what I mean) congress doesn’t project them.

    No Journalist or opposition wants to discuss development because they cannot find the chinks in the armour.

    Few schemes.
    Ayushman Bharat,Ujwala Yojana,Jan Dhan account,Subsidized LED lights
    Toilets,Affordable houses build,Electrification of Villages,
    And now Electrification of every house, Highways being built at 30 KM/day,
    Water Pipe connection to all,Dedicated Frieght corridor,Strengthing of the Defence forces,etc,etc, Phew.

    Few Areas where Modi didn’t do much work in my opinion Regulating the Health & Education sector which is has a very high inflation and hurting the people.
    RBI have failed to stop these Banks frauds. Election Bond is THE biggest scam pulled by Modi govt.
    Govt has failed to fix Air India, MTNL & BSNL, many more PSU’s.

    Still BJP supporters would be grateful to writers like Shailaja Bajpai Ji, Because of their Ignorance or Selective bias they will have only contributed to the winability of Modi in 2024.

  5. If dialogue delivery was qualification of pm then it was good. Contentwise pathetic. But with supposdly unbiased media like yours also have nothing to say on content it is really sad. Did he even clear one doubt on the questions raised. Only empty rhetoric. But seeing the quality of Indian journlasm and standards of logical and critical thinking in the country …. We got a PM we deserve.

  6. Always been a fan of your articles, despite that slight bias you harbour against BJP. This is a very convincing piece. As always, entertaining too.

  7. Like many of her ilk the author still doesn’t get it. If fine speeches and oratory is all that is needed then the PM has many competitors. No wonder the PM’s opponents are such losers, including those in the media. They still don’t get it.

  8. Very nice piece indeed! As regards Mamata taking on Modi, we have seen what happens when Mahua speaks- all fire and fury from a written speech and everyone looked amused by the theatrics but nothing beyond! Mamata can do no better. Modi not only has style but he also has substance and deep knowledge. There is in fact no one who can take him on, not even Rajnath.

    • Good observation Surendra. You have nailed it on the head. Substance matters, style and theatrics enhances the substance.

    • Another point is – Would someone like Shashi Tharoor or Manish Tiwari take on Modi? Shashi, despite all his suave manners, sophisticated English and wide knowledge, is no match for earthly Modi. Manish may be a good lawyer who can articulate but it ends there.

  9. For all those English quoting intellectuals ” FOLKS OF SHIELDS, IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM , JOIN THEM”
    “Like him or not” has an implied tone as if he is being rammed down the throat.
    Modi speaks well but not like an actor in drama parroting someone else’s scrip.
    How many people can match his command on the language?
    How many people can match the quality of his articulation?
    How many people can match the intonation and effective delivery of the striking words?
    How many people can match his logical layout of contents?
    All this does not come without in depth study of the subject, and not reading it out from a paper is ORATORY.
    You miss one and you cannot be the prince of political drama.

  10. Modi is not only good orator but also a good leader, good MANAGER also. See how he marshaled available resources and met the worst ever pandemic that attacked the mankind in worst ever way never witnessed in last 100 years. India can never boast of world level medical facilities , but was motivated to face the pandemic head on even at the cost of suspension of all economic activities at a time when recession was raising it ugly head . Only a leader who cares for the people knows that his actions will be accepted in the spirit in which he intended to implement. Forget about CAA protests or protest by Rich farmers of North India to destablise his government , he will last laugh in 2024 elections and puppeteer leaders who are manipulating the strings today will not be able to show their defeated faces.

  11. Modi has progressed a lot, from being a self-conscious PM in 2014-15 to someone who can hold the parliament and the TV audiance spell bound. But, I do not approve of Indian PM crying before the cameras. Period. thumbs down to such emotional display, even if it is genuine.

  12. Dramatis personae include clowns and villains. One ‘actor’ can play both roles. Only Bhakts enjoy such acting by a clumsy ‘B’ grade actor.

    • You and the the so called journalist have developed so so much hatred towards Modiji because you can’t just digest that a simple man can rule all of you…. You can’t take how is this guy ruling me…. You idiots who know little English think you are the inntelctual giants (actually you are just fools).
      Keep calling us bakhths and yourself as Gnani or inttelctula and keep eating mud for next few decades when BJP will continue ruling you..

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