Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, Mohan—my younger brother is a changed man. Previously, I never saw him so animated about anything, he just plodded along, did his work, and took care of his small family. But right after the recent general elections, when it became clear that Mr. Modi would be the undisputed leader of the largest democracy in the world, Mohan’s demeanor has undergone a drastic change. He became more animated, more vocal, and more optimistic.
During our weekly Skype conversation between Mohan in Bangalore and me in North Carolina, I could sense his exuberance. It was right after the election results were announced. Mohan said, “Modi ji deserved to win. He worked very hard. Travelled the length and breadth of the country, millions of kilometers, so many speeches, in the end his throat became scratchy, poor man.” His face assumed a pained look, as if he too suffered the long days along with the Great Leader.
I nodded my head, knowing more was about to come. He continued breathlessly, “You must watch his inauguration, I mean his swearing in as the Prime Minister.”
I said, “I don’t know if our channels show that.”
He said, “I know, I know, your American channels…hmmm…they cover only shootings and stuff, not such momentous international events. Not to worry, not to worry, I’ll send you the link, it will be on YouTube, surely, yes, yes.”
Next week, Mohan asked, “So, did you see the ceremony? What a splendid event, ha? So many people, the who is who of India, the Ambanis, the Birlas, the Mahindras, film stars, poets, writers, scientists, leaders from neighboring countries, great show or what!”
I said, “Yes, yes, a very long program, I got bored, the same thing, every minister taking oath, one after the other, why can’t they all take a mass oath, be done with it in a few minutes. Anyway, why Modi ji took his oath of office in Hindi, doesn’t he know English?”
Mohan didn’t look happy, screwed up his face, “What? Modi ji not knowing English! He knows it very well, he can speak fluent English. He uses Twitter all the time, you know he has many millions of followers. But he prefers Hindi, the national language. Even when he speaks to foreign leaders, he uses Hindi, not English. He speaks pure Hindi, not like that woman, her Hindi is horrible.”
‘That woman’ he referred to is Sonia Gandhi, who was dispatched into wilderness by the restless masses.
“He was a big hit in Bhutan, you know, he gave a rousing speech in their parliament, and you know what, breaking with their age-old tradition, they all clapped, that’s a first! Modi ji brings such honor to the country, we are all so proud of him. He has great style, changes five kurtas in a single day, so many bright colors and so fashionable, all designer clothes, especially tailor-made for him. None of that ready-made stuff for Modi ji. Did you see that item in New York Times, Modi ji is the new style icon!,” Mohan gushed.
I asked, “If he’s changing kurtas so many times in a day, how does he find time to govern the country?”
“No, no, no. That’s a wrong impression. Modi ji sleeps only four hours at night, very strict habits, you know, works out on his treadmill first thing in the morning, then a simple breakfast, he is at his desk by seven AM sharp. Very frugal man, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t have to bother about wife and kids, and all that hassle. All the salary he earned as a Chief Minister of Gujarat, he simply gave it away to charity, didn’t even keep a single rupee.”
I thought, what an ascetic man, no wine, no women. How does he relax? Such a contrast to the first Prime Minister of India, who knew how to enjoy life. Nehru smoked, enjoyed his tipple, and had his share of beautiful women.
“So, Modi ji never married, ha?”
Mohan looked a bit uncomfortable. “Well, the fact is, he was married when he was just seventeen, you know how it is in the villages, arranged marriage and all that. But he didn’t live with her, he left home to work for his party.”
“What about the Gujarat riots, wasn’t Modi ji responsible?”
Mohan looked upset. “You Americans always harp about the Gujarat riots. What about that Bushy guy? He went to Iraq, killed all those poor Iraqis, what about it? What about the ISIS? These double standards really bother me. In India there are always some Hindu-Muslim disturbances, no big deal, these things happen, people fight, and then everything back to normal.” Mohan was really animated and angry. Thank god he is faraway, thousands of miles, and several continents separated us.
“But the US government refused to give him visa, you know that, don’t you?” I persisted.
“They were wrong. But they realized their mistake. Recently the American ambassador to India met with Modi ji, you know to mend fences. After he became the Prime Minister, Obama called him up and invited him to the White House. All that visa nonsense is history. The Americans are all over him, prostrating before him.”
I am amused at the thought of the tall American President prostrating in front of Modi ji.
Mohan continued, “Modi ji will get a red a carpet welcome, inspect the honor guard, they’ll play our national anthem.” Mohan stood up to sing, “Jana Gana Mana….” I too stood up to express my solidarity, my arthritic limbs crick-cracking, providing weird kind of background music.
Mohan sat down. “Sorry, I got emotional, imagining the whole scene at the American airport, Obama and Modi ji shaking hands.” He wiped the tears off his eyes “That Modi ji, he’s so inspiring, a towering figure, particularly after the lackluster leadership of the past decade.”
Mohan calmed down, sipped his coffee. “The Americans want Modi ji, they want the Indian markets. Just see, he will go to America, give great speeches, he’ll get a standing ovation. He’ll bring investment to India, billions of dollars, there will be more jobs in India, more growth.”
“I wonder how much of that money will be siphoned off by his cronies.”
Mohan wagged his index finger. “No way, no way. Modi ji, he’s very strict, zero tolerance for corruption and cronyism. Not like that woman, who stole billions of dollars, and her thug of a son-in-law who amassed so much money in such a short time…hmmm…glad she lost so badly, serves her right.”
“What about his science policy?” Being a scientist, I am curious about the new leader’s priorities.
“Well, he had a long meeting with his predecessor’s scientific advisor. They discussed a whole range of issues.” Mohan lowered his voice as if he was with the two men in the Prime Minister’s office, “Modi ji asked for a detailed report, what areas to focus, long term needs of scientists. Yes, yes, Modi ji is very thorough, asks the right questions. Yes, yes, I’m sure he will increase funding for research and education,” Mohan sighed deeply.
“So much to do, the previous government has left the country in total shambles, all the money stolen. Now we need to bring the country back to normal, a lot of hard work ahead. But I know that Modi ji will do the needful, he’s the man of the hour.” He sat back and sipped his coffee, “I’m ecstatic at the prospect of better days ahead.”
Although I have my own doubts about the intractable problems facing India, I fervently wished that the expectations of Mohan as well as many like-minded millions of Indians are not misplaced, that Modi ji is not just another smooth talking politician taking the country for a long, bumpy ride.