For 10 years without respite, television on Independence Day was the equivalent of watching Sunil Gavaskar’s unbeaten 36 at Lords, where the Master wasted all of 174 deliveries in the 60 overs bowled.
Even Sanjaya Baru wouldn’t grudge this: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort became an exercise in monotony. Year after year, it became Singh’s good karma to unfurl the Tricolour and then launch a robotic ^C^V of Ministry-wise assertions.
In the bargain, a generation of young Indians grew up with a sense of collective embarrassment and deja vu. MMS jokes proliferated – some only to relieve ourselves of collective misery.
Until I-Day 2014 that is.
With one magisterial swipe, Narendra Modi has charged the nation with optimism beyond the propriety of Independence Day. No prepared text. No bullet-proof screen. Not even bloopers in Mauryan history. Just clean, inspiring communication, born out of years of grounding in the rough and tumble of politics.
In cricketing terms, Modi’s was an innings that Reginald Erskine Foster, known as ‘Tip’, played on debut.
Called up for England’s winter Ashes tour in 1903 having excelled for his county, Tip scored a peerless 287, more than the entire Australian first innings total of 285, even as England were eventually bowled out for 577. The innings, off 419 balls and featured 37 boundaries, remains the record for a Test debutant. It helped England to a five-wicket victory.
For quizzing enthusiasts, Tip is the only man to captain England at both cricket and football. But re-adhere Modi’s ambidexterity with his party and the Government!
All of Independence Day, television stations have been quick to sense this bounce in the nation’s step.
Positive news is a heady feeling. How we’ve been missing it for one full decade!
This isn’t to deny the gains made in 10 years of UPA rule – mine is a simple assertion of what happens when the top man speaks like Modi not Manmohan.
I’ll rest my case with just one poser.
Imagine if Manmohan had made a pitch for toilets and hygiene!
Then watch Modi’s pitch.
Not one channel, including those featuring the baba log, punctured holes in a restatement, from the Red Fort at that, of how millions of women await darkness before venturing into the open to defecate.
Said with authority and compassion, Modi could be India’s answer to Lee Kuan Yew, a man who created the vision thing about Singapore, but who thought nothing of worrying publicly that toilet bowls in rival Malaysia shined more.
In 2005, after many requests, Lee sat down to give me an interview for India TV (the only time CNBC TV18 ran the channel’s content), where I weaved in a question on his authoritarianism and democratic credentials.
I broached Lee’s (in)famous control streak (read reference to toilet bowls in his National Day address to Singapore!) The iron man smiled and stated the need for an Asian model of Democracy. This meant demanding weekly reports on the state of cleanliness of the toilets at Changi Airport from then Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore Director-General Wong Woon Liong. Since (Lee) wanted a weekly one, Wong wanted a daily report. And since he wanted a daily report, the Director of Operations, guess what, wanted an hourly report.
“So, that’s why we have clean toilets at Changi Airport and everywhere else,” diplomat Lee Lorling, arranger of the rare interview, had told me as background.
Simple communication, backed with ruthless execution, remains lasting impact of Lee’s personal values on Singapore’s civil service.
India awakes to August 16, 2014 in the same zone of optimism.
Thanks for that, Mr Modi!
(The columnist works at the intersect of media, regulation and strategy on RIL. The views are personal. Follow the story on #ModiSpeech.)