2 Sept. 2012
Hanging out with NaMo late into Friday night — Kanchan Gupta
Millions jammed the online highway to Narendra Modi’s Google+ Hangout hosted by Ajay Devgn. Nobody wanted to miss this show and none was disappointed as a real life Singham spoke to Youngistan
I wasn’t aware of a film called Singham till someone drew my attention to a caricature of the movie’s trailer that had been posted on YouTube and named ‘Manmohan Singham’. It was, to borrow an acronym from Youngistan’s lexicon, ‘ROTFL’ stuff. Much later I watched Ajay Devgn aka Singham robustly put down a mafia don-turned-politician. It was a whistle-and-clap movie but very cathartic nonetheless. No less striking was the ease with which Ajay Devgn had slipped into the role of a good cop out to cleanse the world of malcontent. There’s something touchingly sincere about him which came through in The Legend of Bhagat Singh too. He’s not an attention-grabber and, as I have learned in recent days, pretty well-informed on issues that many of his colleagues would possibly find utterly boring or to which they would at best pay lip service if it assured them space on Page 3. It’s not the flaky kind of understanding that makes Amir Khan popular among the chattering classes but a deeper appreciation of how things work in real life, for instance, governance issues.
It’s this insight that has made him look at Gujarat with a critical eye and come up with the assessment that Government works in this State because of the quality of leadership at the helm. His initial interest was limited to checking out Gujarat as an investment destination, but while doing that he realised what makes the State different from others. And from there began an engagement between him and Gujarat which resulted in Friday night’s Google+ Hangout with Chief Minister Narendra Modi that will be talked about and remembered for a long time for multiple reasons ranging from the Internet highway getting jammed by the traffic of millions of people trying to log in for the show (it’s a miracle that YouTube weathered the unexpected turnout so well) to the stunningly candid manner in which a popular leader spoke to young Indians at home and abroad (it’s amazing that a man who is demonised by our biased media as an arrogant, uncaring politician is, in real life, a caring and inspiring leader).
It would be facetious to suggest that the choice of Ajay Devgn as the host for the show was influenced by his popularity as an actor. I think it was his understanding of how the Gujarat Model of Governance works — to quote him, “clear policies” always help — that made him a perfect host for the show. That and his screen image of Singham — the fearless lion who never steps back — made him the right man for the job, although it must be admitted that he has a certain charisma which others lack in his fraternity. In a sense, there were two Singhams hanging out with Young Indians on Friday night: Modi is popularly referred to as “Gujaratka sher”. On Twitter, someone billed the event as “Singham meets Singham” on Friday afternoon. By the time Google’s staff began packing their equipment in Gandhinagar late Friday night, more than two million people who had keenly listened to what Modi had to say on a variety of issues agitating young minds were eager to hail him as “Bharat ka sher”.
Modi’s decision to use this barely tested new platform for a public discussion open to a global audience had captured the imagination of young Indians. Questions poured in by thousands but, given the time constraint, only a few could be answered. But that did not deter anybody from logging in to see the event live. It would seem everybody with a broadband connection was online watching the show on Modi’s YouTube channel. Headlines Today was clever enough to suspend its regular programmes and live telecast the Hangout. Other channels persisted with their late evening shows and came a cropper for that. If anybody were to disclose Friday evening’s TRPs, our news channels would look far worse than they usually do. No amount of tampering with TRP meters or their readings would make them look better.
What Modi did was simple. He bypassed mainstream media, especially the English language media, such as it is, and did his own thing. Since technology is no longer the preserve of big media there’s little that could be done to prevent it. And while doing so, as the transcript of his Hangout will show, he spoke on the future and not the past. There was a message in this: While large sections of the media which shares its agenda with Modi’s political opponents would have liked Friday night’s show to be dominated by the past, Youngistan looks at and thinks about the future. Modi addressed their concerns, leaving his critics to fret and fume. And that’s why he connected so well to the millions of eager listeners.
But technology can only do that much. It can connect a leader with the masses, it cannot make him or her appear credible in the eyes of the masses. Modi used technology to project his credibility, talking to (and not down to) those on the show as well as those watching the show. He talked about growth that would impact all lives, not a few. He spoke about the need to reform our education system not only by setting up better schools but by producing better teachers. He disagreed with the need to stop bright Indians from going abroad — for every bright Indian who leaves India for foreign shores, 10 others are born. He described young Indians as his, and the country’s pride. He reiterated his faith in the principle of equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of outcome. He talked about his favourite dish — khichri — with the same enchanting simplicity as while expressing surprise that ‘Modi Kurta’ had become a fashion statement even in Europe and America. He overawed his audience with statistics by casually mentioning numbers during the two-hour-long virtual conversation as minor details to illustrate the larger point he was constantly making: Good governance makes everything possible. And, not to forget, even in his unpractised humility that kept on surfacing again and again, he displayed the steely resolve and patience of a singham. Responding to a young Indian who lives and works in the US, Modi calmly said that he lives to see the day when Americans will stand in a long queue for a visa to visit a prosperous India, a powerful India.
For a man who has been tormented for a decade by slanderers who hold powerful positions in mainstream media and think nothing of twisting facts to fit into their perverted perceptions, a politician who has been unceasingly defamed by the Delhi-based commentariat that survives on scraps from the Congress high table, a visionary who has the foresight to identify challenges of the future and convert them into advantages but has not been acknowledged for pro-actively pursuing policies and programmes that none has even thought of, Modi is remarkably at peace with himself. As he repeatedly said at Friday night’s Hangout, his only concern is how best to serve Mother India. Everything else is inconsequential. In that assertion lies a message for every Indian.
(The author is a Delhi-based senior journalist.)