Sunday, June 18, 2017

New Tales of Superman

The longest road tunnel - in Kashmir, the longest river bridge - in Assam, the model metro of a future India - in Kochi, and one man to declare them open - the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi.
He strides alone, a fashionably greying superman, in photographs of the inauguration of tunnel and bridge, waving to the future between cylindrical walls vanishing into the brightly lit distance or walking the ramp between sky and water, none behind him or before him, the nonpareil in history. 

It does not matter that these were projects begun by the previous government. Superheroes must deny continuity; they are Fate's interventions in history's course. Mr Modi's superpowers were likely to have been the theme of the inauguration of the Kochi metro too. 

E. Sreedharan, the force behind the Delhi metro and the brains behind the cutting-edge Kochi metro, was at first dropped from the list of people who were to sit with the prime minister on the dais. No one who can actually be credited with an achievement should be seen anywhere close to the prime minister in a moment of triumph; the triumph must be his alone. At least that was the feeling behind the outrage that greeted the Prime Minister's Office upon the excision of Mr Sreedharan's name from the VIP list. 
The chief minister of Kerala wrote to the PMO about this, and Mr Sreedharan was put back in.

It is silly, though, not to trust Mr Modi. The flip-flop over Mr Sreedharan's inclusion had nothing to do with the prime minister's insatiable love for the spotlight. Mr Sreedharan is being considered as a presidential candidate, whispered sources in the PMO; it would be improper for him to share the dais with the prime minister just before the announcement of his name. Before this convoluted reasoning had sunk in, Mr Sreedharan's name was back again. Is he no longer being considered as a candidate then? If he is, why was he dropped in the first place? Besides, said the whispers, Mr Modi likes to be distant from the person he has to push up. Obviously, he has never 'pushed up' Amit Shah. His invisible superpowers must have done that.

These powers do achieve the impossible. In 2001, a silent super-force emanating from the then Gujarat chief minister of barely two months must have impelled the president of the time, K.R. Narayanan, to inaugurate the construction at Deekshabhumi, where B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956. That would be the only explanation of the claim made by the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, that Mr Modi built the memorial at Deekshabhumi. Whether it is Mr Sreedharan's exclusion from a VIP list or Ambedkar's rejection of Hinduism - his conversion, that is - all must be to the greater glory of the leader. The omnipotent, omnipresent leader is an all-too-familiar, all-too-ominous figure in the history of the world. India may boast one yet.

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