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  Opinion   Columnists  30 Jun 2023  Shobhaa De | After Biden, Modi-Musk…Sangam Hoga Ki Nahi?

Shobhaa De | After Biden, Modi-Musk…Sangam Hoga Ki Nahi?

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. Readers can send feedback to
Published : Jul 1, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Jul 1, 2023, 12:00 am IST

In order to take the new India-US love affair forward in more concrete terms, India will need to work much harder to woo the establishment

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers a toast during a State Dinner with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington. (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers a toast during a State Dinner with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington. (Photo: PTI)

I am writing this on a very significant day: Indians across the country are celebrating Id-al-Adha and Ashaadi Ekadashi. Mumbai is drowning under torrential rains. Mumbaikars don’t let anyone or anything dampen their spirits, least of all the annual monsoon nightmare of flooded streets and a near-total breakdown of essential services. Regardless, biryani feasts are on in full swing. At our home, a special biryani has been ordered for an elaborate Id dinner, even as we wallop dear Pushpa’s unbeatable pure ghee sheera with a generous sprinkling of almonds and raisins to mark Ashaadi Ekadashi. The deities in the family shrine look on benignly, as we offer the sheera as prasad to them, before helping ourselves.

It’s a good day to reflect on life’s boons.

The preceding week has seen many tumultuous developments across the world: disasters and triumphs. For whatever reason, the macabre Titan tragedy affected millions, even as critics of the multi-million-dollar misadventure carped about our skewed fascination for a bunch of very rich people, paying $250,000 each, embarking on such a hazardous extravagance. There is no other word to better describe the motivation of the doomed thrill-seekers but as an “extravagance’’ that extracted a huge price -- their lives. Perversely, what’s the bet this monumental disaster will boost the sales of high-tech submersibles? I watched several experts express their views on how such highly-publicised accidents act as spurs for wannabes. Take the hazardous ascent of Mount Everest as a case in point. Seeing the insane traffic jam as hundreds of climbers approach the final stretch to the summit, I asked myself a silly question: Why? As argumentative school kids, whenever a friend asked “Why?” we’d answer cheekily: “Because…!” That would end the argument there and then. It’s the same with Titan. Those who were on it risked their lives “because” … No further explanation/justification needed.

Time to ask the same question to Shri Barack Obama ji: Why? Why rain on Modiji’s parade? Why poke your nose in India’s affairs? Why now? Why embarrass President Biden? Why? Why? Why? Obama is too shrewd a player to “simbbly” ask random questions, knowing the international ripples that would generate. There has to be a deeper matlab, a subtext, that the global diplomatic community knows but won’t reveal. Obama ji… stop being such a chhabi-chhugli master. Stay in your lane, Sirji!

Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui asked India’s Prime Minister a provocative question at his press meet. Please note: Our Prime Minister does not meet the desi press or respond to any questions in his own country. That is his personal policy, okay? But when in Amrika, he does so aaram se. He is an important dignitary on a state visit; a press conference goes with the turf. No maun vrat privilege on foreign soil. Nobody is exempt, not even India’s mighty leader.

God knows who “allowed” Ms Siddiqui to ask the trick question (“There are many human rights groups who say your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics… what steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?”). What a bewakoof auratDekho! What cheek: motivated and hostile, right? And see the brilliance of our Prime Minister’s response! Said Shri Modi, loudly, firmly, clearly: “Democracy is in our DNA… there is absolutely no question of discrimination, regardless of caste, creed, religion and gender.” Taalis! Basss! Chhupp kar diya.

Ms Siddiqui was mercilessly trolled as a consequence, with potshots and low blows aimed at “exposing” her true colours… which translates to just one thing: her Muslim identity. That her comeback to the hate fell back on the tired, old “I clap for India during cricket matches…” took away from the seriousness and depth of her question, reducing what could have been a significant media moment to a more mundane tweet: “Sometimes identities are more complex than they seem…”, with images of herself in an Indian cricket team shirt and another of her in Team India colours with her father, watching India win the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Sorry, honey. Advantage Modi.

The Wall Street Journal issued a statement saying that Siddiqui is a “respected journalist known for her integrity and unbiased reporting’’. Her colleagues were quick to defend her ethics, saying: “She was only doing her job…”

Errr… that’s just the point.

For nine years, Siddiqui’s journalistic counterparts in India have not been given the chance to do their jobs…  ask not just this question, but any question.

Khair… our PM had far bigger priorities. The whole exercise of crossing saat samundar to shake Biden’s hand and eat gourmet millets was to show the watching world (mainly China and Pakistan) that… boss… wake up! Don’t take panga with India… varna… Mission successful! Rather very, very successful. Look at where the Sensex reached! Markets made kachumbar of intra-day highs, as the Sensex touched 64K. This is the Modi-Biden jaadu! People are raving about their chemistry and calling it a “game-changer”.  Now that India is resolutely moving beyond the old “buyer-seller” relationship, this newly reinforced rishta is definitely signalling a period of mutual benefit. Jai ho! The unpalatable Slumdog Millionaire image of India has been deleted. It’s the only image of India the average Joe in America can recall. Kyunki American citizens don’t really care a damn about India or Indians. Deal with it. In reality, Americans only care about themselves.

In order to take the new India-US love affair forward in more concrete terms, India will need to work much harder to woo the establishment. Sending our most astute Brand India marketing leader (Namo) for an aggressive sales pitch is a super-cool strategy. But even the smartest marketing plan needs a dedicated team to see concrete results. Soon, India will switch to election mode, and once again Shri Modi will be on an arduous marketing road trip to ensure victory at the polls. But wait… his latest BFF Elon Musk knows a thing or two about selling ideas and products. At the moment, Musk and Modi are at the coy holding hands stage of what could be the most awe-inspiring transactional affair of the 21st century, to paraphrase The Economist. Why not get Musk on board as campaign strategist for Elections 2024? A win-win proposition for both. What an idea, Sirji!

Oh… I almost forgot! The Russian revolt that never was! Moscow has arrested General Armageddon (Sergei Surovikin). The mutiny/naatak staged-managed by Yevgeny Prigozhen is already forgotten. The only one enjoying vodka shots is Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Za zdorovie, comrade!  Err… Where exactly is Belarus???

Tags: barack obama, ashaadi ekadashi, id-al-adha