Even as the evening sun was setting at the Wagha border closing, the Indian soldiers strutted like cocks, and the no-more-room-to-stand spectators in the galleries were, by the minute getting hoarser by the shout. Each time a soldier performed a stiff pirouette, a person in white, flayed his arms like a conductor performing Mozart. In no time he connected with the spectators.
He points to any part of the stands and it roars its appreciation. He has the crowd eating out of his hands. A single gesture triggers the full-throated roars of “Bharatmama ki Jai”, “Hindustan Zindabad” and “Vande Mataram”, perfectly synchronised to drown the roars from the Pakistani side.
Two women soldiers, almost goose stepping, face the gate, and stomp which follows raising the foot in an arc, taking the toe to the chin level. They turn and stand facing each other for the ensuing aggressive ceremony. Except in the last moment when Indian and Pakistani flags lowered, the latter’s soldiers are hardly visible.
To us spectators it is purely an India show which I witnessed of a March evening, for it is a part of any tourist itinerary when visiting Amritsar for its Golden Temple. It is de rigour and it is almost blasphemous to ignore one for the other. It is indeed an awesome performance on every count. It was all macho, a display of Indian pride in its Army, and an evening of sublimated patriotism.
The same crowd may have cheered a Pakistani cricketer for his elegant six somewhere if they saw one, but treat matches as a low-intensity proxy war. But here, you hardly got a peek at the simultaneous events across the closing. Indians selling, snacks, tea, some souvenirs, say there are fewer
attending on the other side though Lahore is as close to it as Amritsar is. Only Indians throng it.
My thought at that moment was, if huge roars were substitutes for the whoosh and boom of an armed missile, then every evening India won a war the Wagha border. I get a similar feeling that Narendra Modi has already won the elections, not only to most states that will elect their new Assemblies in some weeks. In studio after television studio, he is the centrepiece of almost all shows, to the extent that when Rahul Gandhi lectured in Delhi, Modi’s speech in Patna found favour on most networks.
The prime ministerial aura has already been invested on him, every word he says at a rally, or on social media is analysed. The respect he did not get earlier from the media is now in plentiful evidence. Some channels even defer advertisements when telecasting him live to when anchors and guests start off-the-cuff, instant analysis. As Shilaja Bajpai said in The Indian Express today, “The constant is Modi”.
Ask yourself this: when was the last time, day, you did not catch a glimpse of him on TV?” He has “been the poster boy of TV news, appearing on it every single day”. “All other politicians from all the other parties, together, are no match for him on TV. If the election results were to be decided solely by TV coverage, Modi would have won a landslide already.” Modi has also goofed and seriously too.
In Patna, he made blundered on facts of history. A feisty Nitish Kumar faulted him even on contemporary facts like never having been sumptuously dined by Modi; that they never sat at the Prime Minister’s high table to break bread. Even this will pass, unless Kumar brings Modi’s credibility down.
That would be quite task, for Modi is on an entirely different platform now, on the issue of Sardar Patel’s forgotten legacy to which he lays. He brought himself on a single platform—as close as one can come to a presidential debate—with Manmohan Singh. Modi said his piece; Singh rebutted with an uncharacteristically louder voice.
Others will take over. The manner in which this is playing out also throws up an irony. It was the media that was seen as using every opportunity to hound him using the 2002 riots in Gujarat. There was a time when Modi could never do a single thing right regardless of any facts a case. He denied media their interviews, and more importantly reduced media’s access to him. That made him rare.
He no longer had to keep repulsing every attack and those who pounced on his would now be ready to give a right arm for a question and answer session with him. They would forget that Modi had walked out of Karan Thapar’s interview. With media following him, no longer sniping at his heels, Modi has won the media game. Now they have made him their central theme, Rahul Gandhi occasionally there for comparison.
Even the forecast BJP wins in the on-going Assembly elections in the BJP-ruled states, whose chief ministers were seen as good enough to be where Modi is now, would be seen as victories because of Modi. Unless, of course, the Modi magic suddenly soured. All this help to create a perception of a wave in Modi’s, and thereby BJP’s, favour. Negativity centric to the BJP in the 1990s in the media, the late Pramod Mahajan would insist, helped them.
A single negative, carping news item or an opinion about us in the media”, he often said, “means several thousand votes in our favour. We grow because of and in spite of the media. That is why we don’t worry about it”. How right he was. Modi may even win the elections to be the prime minister, or at least take the BJP to a status it may never have hoped for without him, an Advani, a Jetley, or a Sushma Swaraj leading the party. Even the latter would be a gift to the party and in all this the media has stoked support for him, unwittingly or wittingly. No wonder he is already seen a winner.