Reinventing Father of the Nation… as Father of India

What defines the aspirational boundaries of the leader of any powerful nation, who has seen it all, done everything?  In the US, many Presidents who are about to get through their second term have had a go at turning the world on its head by waging war or brokering peace. More often than not they have ended up doing both, one after the other. In the bargain, they have looked over the shoulder to see if the Nobel Peace came beckoning.

In Europe, they just fade away as part of think tanks, some make good in the lecture circuit or join some trust or the other. Quite a few return to their respective professions. The lucky ones get to stay relevant as politicians.

In the developing world, especially in Africa, one has seen too many democratically elected heads of state deciding to elect themselves for life and stay put for many decades, surviving many coups before finally succumbing to one. And, of course, there are countries like China where one doesn’t need to subvert law to stay in power for long periods of time.

In India, not many leaders have had the luxury of planning ‘what next’ as it has always been about fighting the next election. Narendra Modi is an exception. Four back-to-back stints as Chief Minister and the second consecutive term as Prime Minister just begun, he has the luxury of planning his legacy. His detractors term it plotting. To Modi who said right after getting elected Chief Minister for the first time there is nothing called bad publicity, all this debate would be mere semantics.

With only four months gone from the five assured years he has in office, Modi has his latest move on the chess board. Having carefully cultivated his publicly declared veneration for Mahatma Gandhi, he has started sending out strong feelers it is time to look beyond the Father of the Nation. Why can’t the new India, its demographic structure comprising a good percentage of millennials, be allowed a more contemporary and easier to relate with Father of the Nation is the question being posed.

In other words, what is wrong with having a Father of India, to go with the Father of the Nation? After all it’s all about semantics. And good optics will follow in the Making of Mahatma 2.0.

In fact, efforts towards this have been on for a while. One biopic by his name had Vivek Oberoi essay the title role. It grossed Rs 23 crore in the box office, a four-fold profit on the money spent making it a hit, apart from delivering the goods during elections. Later, Modi starred along with Bear Grylls in Man Vs Wild on the National Geographic channel. Given his penchant to spring surprises, who knows…perhaps a Hollywood movie along with Tom Cruise is up next.

Consider this: Narendra Modi has been doing all the right things to establish the Mahatma connect. The single-most discussed and feted initiative by Modi as PM has been the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, drawing inspiration from Gandhiji’s life. True, Modi has never lost an opportunity to be seen in the same frame as his fellow Gujarati from Rajkot, whether the venue be Sabarmati Ashram or Alfred High School.

In these days when many classics—movies, songs et al—go for redux, the PM’s backroom team believes the Father of the Nation sobriquet is ripe and ready for the picking by those who have the gumption. Surely, they believe this need not be perceived as an act of audacity.

One could either plan spoofs of the scene from Lage Raho Munnabhai where Sanjay Dutt’s character gets bitten by the Mahatma bug or look at things from the reality perspective. While the first one will trigger a few guffaws, the latter scenario paints a daunting prospect, one that is quite difficult to pull off.

It would be a crime to brush off this huge image makeover exercise, considering the kind of personalities from India and abroad who have been made part of its machinery. Sure, the likes of Union Minister Jitendra Singh and Amruta Fadnavis have set the ball rolling by addressing Modi as Father of India, our Country, etc while the NRI Gandhi look-alike has gone one step ahead suggesting Modi is a reincarnation of Gandhiji.

But the real push came from @realDonaldTrump. No mean hand at showbiz, either doing roles in movies or slamming wrestlers on WWF, US Prez Trump did not bat an eyelid or botch a line while delivering the punch line after the Howdy Modi show in Houston last week. Trump presented Modi to the world as Father of India, no less.

So, what was till now a soft sell or a teaser will soon get escalated into a hard sell. Sure, Modi would be expected to return the compliment come US election time and give a helping hand to Pa Trump. That is, unless the impeachment motion takes a nasty turn for the US Prez.

The country is gearing up to kickstart what will be a-year-long celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday on Wednesday. The initial salvo has been fired at the UN headquarters last week, with his speech about the relevance of Gandhiji to a world combating climate change, terrorism and corruption. The next 12 months will unveil a slew of activities to rediscover, if not reinvent, the magic of the Mahatma. And get ready for a stellar role to be played by the Father of India!

Meanwhile, I called an old friend in Ahmedabad for his feedback on all this. This is what he had to say:

Mōdījī pōtānē bhāratanō sācō putra kahētā rahyā chē. Jō lōkō tēnē bhāratanō pitā kahēvānuṁ śarū karē, tō tē tēmanē nirāśa karī śakē nahīṁ, tē karī śakē?

It translates thus: Modiji has been calling himself a true son of India. If people start calling him father of India, he cannot disappoint them, can he?

Not sure how long it will take for this thought to take wing and reach out to other parts of India.

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