By Abhishek Jha:
Nothing sells like a TIME cover, and our photogenic prime minister sure knows that. “I had a full hour with him, which is very unusual because most of the time I only have 10 minutes for a portrait session,” says Peter Hapak, the photographer who shot the cover for the TIME 100 issue. The PM also sat through a two hour long interview with the magazine and faced a few tough questions. There is, however, hardly anything new to be learnt from the interview . The answers, more or less, to both international relations and domestic troubles are centred around the old ‘world is a family‘ rhetoric.
On being quizzed about the roadblocks to the land acquisition bill and whether he wished to have more power, he said, “India by its very nature is a democracy. It is not just as per our Constitution that we are a democratic country; it is in our DNA. In so far as different political parties of India are concerned, I firmly believe that they have the maturity and wisdom to make decisions that are in the best interests of the nation. I firmly believe that for us, democracy and belief in democratic values, are a matter of faith, which are spread across all political parties in the country.” This was in line with his view of a federal government working as “an organic entity” where each state helps the other and works in tandem with the centre. TIME in its cover story refers back to this point.
“Modi’s government, which needed to approve the state changes, should get credit for allowing Rajasthan to press on with such reforms,” says Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But it’s one thing, he adds, to say we’ll let the states make these changes and another to say that “the Prime Minister is going to use his bully pulpit to actually advocate for these types of changes across states, and particularly in the BJP states.”’
What is surprising though is his somewhat tacit (and perhaps unwitting) admission of his government’s popularity being a product of an anti-incumbency wave and not a genuine wave for a real leader. He was asked whether the Indian economy’s rise was due to the falling oil prices and not new reforms and whether the pace of reform is fast enough and in answer he said, “If you were to pick up the newspapers for the period March-May 2014 last year and read them, you will actually get the context and key aspects of the context in which we were approaching the elections at that time. One of which was that nothing seemed to be happening in the Government. There seemed to be a complete policy paralysis at that time. Two, corruption had spread throughout the system. Three, there was no leadership; it was a weak government at the centre. That was the context and the background in which I was elected.” Of course, this was then later used to pit his government’s 10 months of achievements against the rudderless regime of UPA.
With Barack Obama vouching for Narendra Modi on the TIME 100, it was only natural that the camaraderie was reciprocated and USA become India’s natural ally. He was caught off guard though when he was asked to name other countries that he considered to be India’s natural allies. “I think this is an expected question from a journalistic point of view! I think each country has its own importance and each relationship has to be viewed in its own perspective. There are several countries of the world with which India has strategic partnerships. There are several other countries with which we have a relationship that is comprehensive in some other respects. There are some which are perhaps born to be there as natural allies, but there are still gaps to be covered in order for us to become natural allies,” he replied.
On terrorism he was guarded even when prodded and refused to link it with any religion. On being asked how he interpreted President Obama’s apprehensions about India splintering along religious lines, he sidestepped the question to emphasize the “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas” slogan of his party and government and talked about India’s centuries old practice of religious tolerance.
TIME’s list of 100 most influential people, although by its own admission, is not reflective of the kind (whether good or bad) of influence the people enlisted have, does put people on the global mindscape. Narendra Modi, who has already had a scoop of international fame with Wolverine and what not, will definitely enjoy this TIME issue.