Embattled at home, Narendra Modi seeks love and endorsement in San Jose

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Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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No, it wasn’t quite Madison Square Garden all over again.

Several thousands turned up for the Narendra Modi show at San Jose’s SAP Center on Sept. 27, and the Indian prime minister delivered an impassioned plea for endorsement from the revolving lectern.

No longer in the throes of a prolonged honeymoon, Modi sought comfort from an enamoured diaspora.

At home, hamstrung by a recalcitrant parliament, Modi is battling to push key reforms. The GDP numbers, after some statistical wizardry, look good and inflation is under control, but the economy isn’t exactly firing under his watch.

The powerful Patel clan in Gujarat, where Modi was chief minister for 13 years, is no longer an ally. And his foreign policy moves in the neighbourhood, in Pakistan and now Nepal, haven’t quite delivered.

Modi’s domestic ratings still remain high, but cracks are appearing in the face of unending optimism.

So, in faraway California, the prime minister made his case—and sought reaffirmation, playing off a cricket analogy:

Sometimes, when you are watching a cricket match in a stadium, you have to look around where the ball went, where the fielder is standing, what the wicketkeeper is doing… You have to turn your head around. But if you watch the match on TV at home, you get to know everything: where exactly the ball is going, what the fielder is doing, what the wicketkeeper is doing… You do find out, right? That is why, you see India more minutely than those who live in India and watch the country. You know everything that’s happening or not happening. That’s why you know what Modi is doing, what Modi used to say, what he did. You know everything.

The apparently farseeing diaspora was then quickly implored to validate that India’s prime minister had indeed delivered.

“Today after 16 months, I want a certificate from you,” Modi declared. “I had said I will not leave any stone unturned… to fulfil the responsibility I have been given by 125 crore people.”

And so he asked, and answered himself, as the audience roared: “Have I kept my promise, am I working hard? Am I working day and night? Did I deliver?…The promise I made, I am keeping at it and delivering.”

 With a mix of history and histrionics, he hammered on.

Modi remembered not just the early Indian pioneers on the US West Coast, but also furnished a helpful list of his own successes since coming to power almost a year-and-a-half ago. Some of it was conspicuously similar to his speech at New York’s Madison Square Garden and Sydney’s Allphones Arena last year.

With Bihar’s elections drawing ever closer, the prime minister deftly used the California stage for some political parrying.

“Politicians in our country are blamed about things within a few months,” he said. “Someone made Rs 50 crore, the other made Rs 100 crore. Someone’s son made Rs250 crore, and the daughter made Rs500 crore, the son-in-law made Rs1,000 crore.” The allusion to the Gandhi family was hard to miss.

“My countrymen,” he continued, “today I am standing amongst you and you tell me: Is there any such allegation on me?”

There was, as he himself admitted, much more to say, but Modi erred on the side of caution.

“If I start telling everything here, and if I spend two hours each day talking about it, it will take at least 15 days,” the prime minister explained. “So that is why, today I am just showing you the trailer.”

Thus ended the latest episode of the Narendra Modi show, but the season is far from over.

(Itika Sharma Punit and Shelly Walia contributed reporting.)

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Also read: Why Narendra Modi’s San Jose speech sounded like the one at Madison Square Garden