The last word


September 28, 2016

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national council meeting in Kozhikode, Kerala on Sunday (PTI)

Even as the nation held its breath, expecting Modi to declare war on its neighbour, the Prime Minister used his oratory skills to deliver the message that the focus needs to remain on the war against poverty and unemployment.

His oratory skills are well known. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi bettered himself the other day by delivering the unexpected. All those listening to him speak would have expected his last few words to be the formal culmination of a week-long drumming up of hysteria for declaring war against the country’s ‘enemy’ neighbour.

After all, 18 Indian soldiers had been killed in yet another terrorist attack on a military post close to the country’s border with Pakistan. But the twist-in-the-tail set Modi apart for various reasons.

To many of his ardent supporters within the party and outside, including senior party leaders, his speech at the public meeting in the southern state of Kerala came as a dampener. Post the attack, practically every known or notso- popular ‘specialist’ on security matters, ably aided and abetted by party spokespersons, went berserk across all sections of media to indulge in war mongering.

And, anybody holding a pragmatic viewpoint and avoiding hyperbole only helped in giving an extra booster dose to hyper-nationalism. The mood was such that a more than three year old short video clip of Modi responding to questions in a television interview went viral on social media.

It showed the then chief minister of the western state of Gujarat being highly critical of the then federal government for writing letters to counterparts in Pakistan. At one stage, Modi is even heard telling his interviewer that the language of engagement should change.

In simple words, he was trying to point out that India should gain the upper-hand by making the other country respond rather than the other way around. Such interviews, at that time, made him the darling of the party cadre as well people in general. But that was at a time when he was yet to sit in the most important chair in the sub-continent.

It was during the run-up to the election campaign for 2014 that the interview had taken place. Interestingly, Dr Manmohan Singh, the man sitting in that chair at the time - a chair that Modi unabashedly aspired for - was following the same policy that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) highly respected Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated in his own inimitable style.

But, obviously, sitting on the seat of the prime minister and understanding strategic realities gives a different perspective even to the most die-hard nationalists. Modi was no exception. There were several others - all fiery speakers capable of arousing sentiments through their speeches - who changed their opinions on statecraft once on the hot seat.

It was, perhaps, this that made the Prime Minister make it clear to all those who believed in ‘the jaw for a tooth’ principle that the anger needed to be controlled lest it lead to something uncontrollable, both socially and politically. He made use of his oratory skills to deliver the adrenalin boosting statement of being prepared to face a ‘thousand year war’, basically a quote of the then Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The last part of that sentence was like changing from fifth gear to neutral. He shifted it to fighting the war against poverty and unemployment. In that one sentence, he closed the war option, impractical by any stretch of imagination, which nevertheless many of his ardent followers and party men were baying for. But, what he elaborated on regarding the developmental plank was another nuance that he adopted in his strategic communication.

He directly exhorted the people of Pakistan to compete with India in fighting poverty, unemployment and social evils. The hidden message was to Indians - focus on more critical issues instead of war mongering.

It is a different matter that people expected the Prime Minister to announce war from a public platform. But that was the mood that had been created in the country. Incidentally, if reports from across the border are to be believed, the mood was not confined to India alone.

Nevertheless, to those who disagreed with the hysteria being generated, the point of focus was that India had not just survived many terrorist attacks but had grown economically and politically in the comity of nations as a country that shows restraint. As for Modi, there is some disillusionment that appears to be setting in, especially on this score.

How he handles that will certainly be closely monitored.

Cells on fire

Everyone will agree that the cell phone has changed lives. Without that instrument around, there are many who feel lost. Of course, the addicts are known to develop withdrawal symptoms as per some studies conducted by wellknown institutions.

But, the recent incidents of the batteries bursting in phones of a particular brand has begun to cause anxiety. As the company withdrew millions of phones across the world, came the news of another phone of the same brand causing tension on a routine Singapore-Chennai flight.

The battery in this phone had obviously caught fire and smoke was emanating from the hand-baggage cabin. Fortunately, nothing serious happened. But the news has led to a different problem altogether. Attendants at coffee shops, who used to freely accept phone recharge requests from customers, are beginning to have a close look at the phone before agreeing to charge them.

Leave alone the attendants, even those charging the phone at their homes or workplaces are beginning to give not a second look but multiple looks at the phone to check if the battery is beginning to smoke. A sad commentary on a strong brand. But safety, after all, cannot be compromised.

Tailpiece

The Bannerghatta Biological Park, spread across 731 hectares on the outskirts of Bengaluru is in a fix. It has all kinds of animals, including a large number of elephants and tigers etc, except for the giraffe.

Sometime back, it asked the Mysuru Zoo authorities to spare a giraffe but the zoo authority decided to barter that for another animal. It must have hurt the officials that the neighbouring district should prefer to hand over the giraffe to another state.

Perhaps, this is what forced the park authorities to strike a deal with a zoo in Cyprus to exchange two female elephants for two pairs of giraffe. Now, the park authorities have landed in a peculiar jam. They have to pay a phenomenal US$250,000 to merely transport the giraffes.

After all, the giraffe is an animal that requires a special chartered flight to be transported. They are apparently contacting other zoo’s in the country to pick up one giraffe to meet the, literally, tall order!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]