In no uncertain terms and without a blush for seeming impudent, India laid claim to the region’s sole superpower status this Monday by rolling out the red carpet and striking the high note of pomp and importance to accord Narendra Damodardas Modi not a swearing in ceremony for a prime minister but a coronation fit [...]


SAARC Heads cheer as Indians sing glory to the new crowned king


In no uncertain terms and without a blush for seeming impudent, India laid claim to the region’s sole superpower status this Monday by rolling out the red carpet and striking the high note of pomp and importance to accord Narendra Damodardas Modi not a swearing in ceremony for a prime minister but a coronation fit for a Yuvraj.

It was a charged symbolical scene reminiscent of the ancient days when the emperor was crowned in the presence of invited kings from vassal states, attending not only to wish him well but to tacitly acknowledge his dominion over them.

New Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's council of ministers take the oath of office in the forecourt during the swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on May 26. AFP

There on the forecourt of the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan, the former Viceroy’s Palace now President’s House built in the 1920s and set in 320 acres of sprawling gardens, with the imposing building’s pinnacle adorned with a dome modelled on the Sanchi stupa in Saranath where the Buddha first set the wheel of Dhamma in motion, sat not only 3,000 Indians of importance from different strata of society but also, for the first time in India’s modern history, seven leaders from seven regional states, each one a sovereign nation, invited to be present and bear witness to a historic moment in India’s time as her new prime minister took his oaths of office.

The invitations had arrived only on Friday and were quickly accepted; and an earnest tumble made to get on the invitee bandwagon to pay their namaskar and receive their vibuthi from India’s outstretched hand. India had made them an offer to be smeared with the holy ash of her benediction and it was an offer none could refuse.

Even India’s regional arch rival Pakistan had to partition her pride and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to grace the occasion to see the man labelled as being anti-Muslim — once branded by the world as the ‘Butcher’ of Gujarat for the massacre of 2,000 Muslims by Hindus under his watch as Gujarati Chief Minister in 2002 now hailed as India’s Messiah — elevated to India’s highest executive office.
And there, in the sweltering heat of a torrid Indian summer eve, he, along with the other leaders, had to sit through not only the swearing in of the prime minister which was fair enough but his entire cabinet, in a ceremony lasting over two hours, in an exercise carefully and brilliantly choreographed by the host to subliminally demonstrate to the watching world the suzerainty of India over its neighboring states. That she was First amongst Equals, the acknowledged supreme charioteer spurring on the Jades of Asia.

Or else why should Heads of States of other nations have to sweat and wait, have to grin and bear, have to sacrifice their own busy schedules attending to the pressing affairs of their own nations to watch some unknown Indian taking his oaths in an unfamiliar tongue as minister for sanitation or for Ganga development or for food processing or for some other insignificant ministry which hardly had any bearing on the other nations?

Modi takes the oath of office as India's new Prime Minister. AFP

Swearing in of Modi as PM is one thing. Swearing in the entire cabinet is quite another matter; and is purely an internal affair for India. Not one for leaders of other nations to be involved with and be troubled with. But India made it their business. The message was clear. If you came for the caviar, you must sit through the full seven course banquet. She turned, what was after all an internal matter of executing the formalities of swearing in to office ministers of India’s Union States, into a regional mega event that had to be celebrated throughout SAARC; and, in her opinion, merited and demanded the undivided attention and physical presence of seven leaders of seven sovereign nations.

India’s vibes were distinct and subtly conveyed and supremely effective. Meet the powers of the sub-continent: The faces that will guide the destiny of India and the region, the super state of SAARC. No more will she remain a mere oarsman on the SAARC boat. She will steer from the front with her hand on the rudder. SAARC will be the vessel and India its self-appointed captain, the position implicitly ratified by the acquiescent conduct of the other members at last Monday’s mass swearing in ceremony. Not for nothing was the ocean that lapped the shores of the coastal member nations historically named after her in recognition not only of her geographical bulk but also of the influence and power she had wielded throughout the ages. And the leaders already sucked into the oaths ritual could not make their excuses and leave the moment Modi finished his lines. It was a case of noblesse oblige and the visiting heads of State had no alternative but to keep a stiff upper lip and bear the heat, whether they liked it or lumped it.

For all the saccharin SAARC talk and the magnified importance placed on the need of the regional members’ cooperation to make it a success, it became clear from the outset that, not even hours after Modi breathed his first breath as the Indian Prime Minister, India had covertly arrogated to herself the permanent role of leader of SAARC, 28 years after its establishment — even as Britain overtly did with the Commonwealth Union at its inauguration — whoever may happen to be the current chairman in any given year.

Even for the sake of courtesy not a hint was dropped, not a passing reference made to the fact that the Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen was the present Chairman of SAARC by virtue of his office as President of the Maldives or that in November this year that honour and duty will fall upon Nepal and its Prime Minister. It seemed no one gave a toss as to who the chairman might be and thus no one dared broach the subject, least of all the present incumbent, the Maldivian President, lest it took the sheen out of the newly crowned Savant of India and cast a shadow on India’s towering ambitions, so eloquently delivered without speaking an audible word. Thus the auspicious milk of muditha was imbibed without a single feculent blob allowed to muck it and act as a spoiler to the abundance of sympathetic joy.

The following morning India’s dominance was reinforced. Some of the leaders, including the Sri Lankan President had hoped for a one-to-one meeting with Modi. They did get one, though it was more of a personal audience, limited to thirty minutes with the new emperor at Hyderabad House, the butterfly shaped Delhi Palace of the Last Nizam. Given time slots in the manner patients are given tickets when channeling a specialist at private hospitals, the leaders were kept lined in the waiting room queued to make their entrances on cue, shake hands with Modi, smile for the cameras while Modi beamed and then disappear with him to his office to keep the channeled consultation.

Half an hour later they would emerge without Modi in attendance to wave goodbye and then head home alone. Another leader would then be wheeled in to go through the same motions. Sometimes it appeared almost as if the leaders were a bunch of school prefects, house captains of the college so to speak, given specific times to present their credentials to the new Head Master and have a pep talk regarding future behaviour. Whether they received a slap on the back or a rap on the knuckles or, worse, six of the best is anyone’s guess. If it was Modi’s shining hour, it was India’s glorious summer day.

But the question must be asked: Was it right of India to exploit the confining strictures the SAARC leaders found themselves in as the honoured guests of India? As the host, was it right to have taken advantage of the predicaments of the guests and dictated their local itinerary to her own benefit? They had accepted India’s invite in good faith but had they bargained for this ignominious treatment dished out but done so elegantly no protest could be made without appearing to be pedantic? Ex chai wala Modi had served them tea in cups of porcelain but the beverage had been made from tea dust, served plain, without milk or sugar. For India to appear great in her moment of glory had she to make her invited guests appear small? Even though outwardly, its nuance was only noticeable to the discerning..

This was the face of a new and resurgent India, a hands-on India, knowing her unrivalled position and importance on the region’s stage, displaying to all concerned, in unmistakable terms, she has resumed her historical place in the order of nations in her backyard. And it was done brilliantly and ingeniously, using the cover of the swearing in ceremony to play out a drama with a secret potent message, done without an air of arrogance or presumptuousness, without even a whiff of condescension, executed in a matter of fact way, in a confident manner as natural and legit as the eldest son laying claim to his feudal inheritance. After all, all the nations, with the possible exception of new comer Afghanistan, owed something of their existence to Mother India at whose breast they once had suckled. To Pakistan and Bangladesh, it was land. To Lanka, it was her religion.

This was the crescendo of Modi’s mantra, the Modi wave that swept across India has now over flowed across national boundaries, breaking through every natural bank and manmade bund heading, inexorably, towards a still unknown final frontier.

This Sunday afternoon as Narendra Modi has his tiffin seated in the private drawing room at his official residence at Panchavati, No 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi and watches his liveried butler serve him high tea in the finest china no doubt his mind will flicker back to his childhood days when he was a chai wala selling tea in small metal cups to bus and train travelers in his home town of Vadnagar to earn a few paisa to help his vegetable vendor father keep the home fires burning during those hungry and lean years of his childhood.
But such are the quirks of fate; such the stuff modern legends are made of, such the bounty bestowed when fortune favours those Providence has anointed. Some are born to power, some achieve or wrest power and some have power thrust upon them. In Narendra Modi’s case, it was thrust upon him by millions of Indians who plucked his lotus from the mire of India’s seedy backwaters rather than the pedigreed rose that blew in the palace pond.

But Modi’s life has not always been high tea and blueberry scones with cream. Born the third into a family of six, to a low income family, to a low caste of Ghanchi-tel (oil-pressers), life had been lived on the wrong side of the street. A the age of eight he had drifted into the arms of the political group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which followed the political philosophy of Hindutva and he embraced it with a lifelong clasp. The RSS, is a radical Hindu nationalistic movement which has, since 1925, held itself as the guardians of Hindustan.

But it was no crude chauvinistic nationalism they espoused. According to Veer Sarvarkar, who first forged the ideology in 1923 in a pamphlet titled ‘Who is a Hindu?’, Hindutva is an inclusive term for everything Indian. And the Indian Supreme Court has also given it a good character certificate describing it as “a way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture and ethos.” Sarvarkar considered a Hindu as one who held India to be one’s Motherland, Father and Holy Land. As a cultural concept it includes, as it always did, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains.

Though Modi can boast no fancy Harvard education he has the ‘money cannot buy’ qualifications from the University of Life. His brush with higher education was through distance learning whereby he obtained an external degree in political science from the Delhi University in 1978 followed by a Masters degree in 1983 from the Gujarat University whilst working as a full time propagandist for the RSS party.

Later Modi joined the Bharatiya Janatha Party which also held the same nationalistic ideology as the RSS and used it as the vehicle to make his foray into the political field. He became known as an active political worker, a troubleshooter in the party and soon rose in the party’s ranks. His last job was as the Chief Minister of Gujarat which he held until May 22nd for a record 13 years.

That then is the man who now leads India, who was not born with the silver spoon, who never had his formative years wrapped in cotton wool and his youth draped in the purple of his ancestors. But who wooed India’s hand and won her heart and usurped the dynastic suitor from her bed through the sheer force of his wits to survive, his drive to succeed and his charisma to captivate. That he could transcend the rigid caste system, social inequalities and poverty existent in Indian society and rise from being a chai wala to become Prime Minister of India speaks of his inherent greatness and gives credence to the maxim ‘ you can’t keep a good man down’
But how will the Modi mantra bode for Lanka? The litmus test will come when Navi Pillay this month unveils her modus operandi to activate the international war crimes inquiry. India’s response will reveal whether Modi’s election has changed India’s stance.

Those who applaud with glee that with BJP’s landslide win, Modi and the central government of India will no longer have to kowtow to state governments’ demands and that Jayalalithaa can no longer dictate to the centre, it should do well to remember that even the Congress Party for all its seeming dependence on the Tamil vote in Tami Nadu, still stood firm to stated Indian policy with regard to Lanka’s ethnic issue.

On important issues such as being against the establishment of a separate state in Lanka, its insistence on implementation of the 13th amendment as the sole means of bringing about a lasting settlement, declaring the LTTE as an illegal terrorist organisation, the Indian Government has remained resolute and has not shifted its stance. Even in Geneva this march India abstained from voting for the US backed resolution whereas Jayalalithaa had clamored for a ‘yes; cite. It is only on symbolic issues such as Manmohan Singh not attending the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo last November where his presence or absence would not affect the result that the Congress has yielded.

Modi, free though he is from the irritant of having to appease state governments, will perforce follow a similar course as that trod by his predecessors. The foreign policy of India, unlike Lanka, does not change with changing regimes. Its broad outlines are firmly fixed and any action must occur within those defined contours, which explains why even after 25 years of introducing the 13th Amendment to the Lankan Constitution as the means of resolving the ethnic issue, India despite three different regime changes within that period, still harps on its implementation. As Modi told President Rajapaksa “early and full implementation” of the 13th Amendment and going beyond that would contribute to the process of national reconciliation.”

But in assessing Modi one outstanding trait of his character should not be ignored. He is committed to Hindutva. Though he snubbed Jayalalithaa’s call to cancel President Rajapaska’s invite to his swearing in ceremony and began the first Act in the taming of the Tamil Nadu shrew, he is on the side of Hindutvars who hold India sacred and regards it as their Mother-Father-Holy land. And Jayalalithaa and her seventy million Tamils in India, indeed, come within this definition. At heart he is and has always been a Hindu nationalist fundamentalist, not a crude religious bigot but a refined lover of India and all things Indian.

There Modi stands, with none of the chains that manacled his predecessor to the caprices of regional governments; there he stands with his party commanding an absolute majority in power, without having to make any horse deals with any coalition partner, there he stands garlanded with the teeming mass of his countrymen’s goodwill behind him, there he stands at the sunny uplands of power; and sole reigning, either for Lanka’s good or misfortune, holds the tyranny of India.

Try this for sizeSUNDAY PUNCH 2Next time there is a presidential election in Lanka and if Modi is invited to Colombo to witness the swearing in of the winner, and accepts the invite and does come would his patience be strained and his temper torn if, after the new President has taken his oath of office, he is kept waiting to witness the minister of coconuts or minister of botanical gardens or minister of national heritage or monsoons formally take his oaths? Not forgetting the other 135 Ministers?

At the rate of just five minutes per minister this exercise will take over eleven and a half hours.


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