During the early days of his Presidency, John F Kennedy, buried amidst files and office papers could not take it anymore and decided on a short break. He got out of the Oval Office, walked into the White House movie theatre, where ‘Spartacus’ (Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier) was playing, bought a bowl of popcorn and settled down comfortably. When intermission arrived, he looked around the theatre and his eyes focussed on a figure seated three rows in front of him. The President slowly walked towards the figure, patted him on the back and remarked with a touch of sarcasm, “Nice way to run the agriculture department.”
The stranger was Orville Freeman, a close friend of the President and the secretary of agriculture in the new JFK administration. Kennedy and Freeman had a good laugh, finished the movie and the popcorn and went back to work. The US media missed out on this ‘scoop’, which was narrated much later in one of the many books on the Kennedy administration. A similar incident in present day India would have evoked different reactions. The national and regional media would have focused on how the Modi Government was neglecting the rural poor while the urban rich could afford to enjoy movies during working hours in air-conditioned comfort. Don’t they have any sense of priorities, the headlines would have screamed.
In his 200-decibel voice, Arnab Goswami would have hectored political leaders, blasting the Prime Minister on his confused priorities. Another channel’s public opinion polls showed that 58 per cent would not mind Modi at the movies, but not the minister of agriculture taking it easy. The RSS mouthpieces would be peeved at Modi’s hobby, but would maintain that he had been watching ‘Dwarka Mein Development’ and had sipped nimbu pani at intermission.
But for all that it matters, this may not even happen, for several reasons. While some of his ministers might turn up for the show, NaMo would be halfway around the world – bankers’ meet at Lausanne, Developers’ Meet at Dublin, Sociology meet at Stockholm and goodwill visits to numerous small, up and coming countries, not very well-known to India. We are not exaggerating, this is what is happening since Modi became Prime Minister. How much does the PM know of what went on in India while he was busy circling the globe? Was there anyone keeping watch on the activities of his ministers, both junior and senior? How was the communal situation in the country? How active was the PMO? Some of us are interested in answers to these queries.
Foreign affairs need to be dealt with regularly, but we have a full-fledged, experienced Sushma Swaraj on the job. While the PM was globe-trotting, Swaraj was in Delhi, sharing with us the merits of the Bhagwad Gita and calling for it to be the national Scripture. Considering that there are other cabinet members going off like loose cannons, this utterance was positively mild. One among them being the alleged favourite of the PM – the HRD minister, Smriti Irani. Like, for instance, putting thousands of Kendriya Vidyalaya students into a quandary by saying German was going to be replaced with Sanskrit. And the timing was quite atrocious – the Prime Minister was at the time holding talks with German leaders during a trip abroad. The thought that such an action would discredit the government does not appear to have crossed the HRD minister’s mind.
Again, while the PM was away, it was the duty of his No 2 (Home Minister Rajnath Singh) and other senior ministers to keep a tight leash on the utterances of their cabinet colleagues and party leaders. Sadly, this was not the case. Communal fringe elements embarked on religious reconversion. They collected groups of poor, illiterate Muslims and Dalits, made them all kinds of promises, had them sit around a fire and utter some mantras and announced that they had reconverted them to Hinduism. Sane minds would view this episode as farcical, but the sword of communal disturbance was perilously poised all the time. And the media had a field day telecasting it over and over again. When will these suited and booted anchors, ostensibly with foreign degrees, read these events right and realise that one false step could lead to murder and mayhem?
And what did our acting Prime Minister and Home Minister Rajnath Singh do to keep the peace at home? He kept quiet. The Hindu fanatics called this ‘Gharwapsi’ (returning home) and have promised another of these events on December 25. A big rally is being planned on Christmas eve in Uttar Pradesh. If the state government does not take adequate preventive steps, there could be trouble. What is more shocking is the silence from the Prime Minister and his office on this issue. How does it help if he keeps visiting foreign nations, shaking hands with dignitaries, signing agreements and coming back home for short spells of governance?
The Modi Government has completed 200 days. We continue to languish despite all the pre-poll assurances of governance, which seems to have been left to the incompetent. Home issues must be attended to first. Communalism is the most dangerous threat, but the PM and his ‘brains trust’ strut around saying such dangers do not exist. The UPA Government was often pilloried for lack of governance. But its leaders, by and large, avoided rushing headlong into the communal cauldron and refrained from looking back selectively into history to dig up incidents and ideologies which only seem to tear the nation further apart.