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An extravaganza of Authority

1) And so, just like that, the Election Giant breathed out and in a puff, one era of Delhi disappeared and another took its place.

They were all gone, the grandees, the grande dames the exquisite shawl wearers, the cultural czars, the think tankers, the IIC-wallahs, the Habitat-centre dwellers, the hangers on and the power brokers.

All gone, taking with them their Oxbridge accents and their Old School ties, their knowledge of which wine to order and their fondness for TS Eliot. And in their place came a different people, new faces, new accents, and new vigour. New hopes, new promises, new directions.

Narendra Modi and Pranab Mukherjee. PIC/PTI
Narendra Modi and Pranab Mukherjee. PIC/PTI

It was a spectacle of people watching, a carnival of body language and a pageant of probability. And along with the nation, I watched, riveted to my TV, unable to take my eye off the screen, as India’s new power elite was inducted.

2) ‘Did you notice Sonia’s expression when Maneka was taking her oath?’ ‘Why was Mukesh in the third row while Adani in the second?’ ‘What’s Vivek Oberoi’s claim to such proximity?’ These were the breathless texts, social media posts and conversations in drawing rooms, as India settled down to watch the mother of all spectacles, the Ram Leela of ceremonies and the extravaganza of authority the Modi swearing in last evening. And so, for whatever they’re worth here are a few random thoughts, a few pithy comments and a few general observations (all my own work).

3) ‘First of all, never in recent memory have there been so many top business leaders at a formal government occasion. Not only were both Ambani brothers present, but they were also seated in the third row and Anil was the one who got to utter Amitabh’s dialogue from Deewar (Mere Paas Ma Hai)!

Nita Ambani with Uddhav Thackeray and family. PIC/PTI
Nita Ambani with Uddhav Thackeray and family. PIC/PTI

As if this did not elicit enough comment amongst Mumbai’s business grapevine, the fact that Adani was seated in the second row gave rise to a flurry of speculation, which rose to a crescendo when it was learnt that Shashikant Ruia was in the FRONT row, seated next to the head of the CBI no less, while Kumar Mangalam Birla was well into the trenches, and the Delhi Big boys: Hari Bhartiya, CK Birla and Rajan Mittal even further away!

4) Bollywood, regardless of Vinod Mehta’s comment about its absence, was there in full force: Somehow one had expected Salman Khan to be present since his father had been such an outspoken Modi supporter.

Poonam Dhillon and Hema Malini. PIC/PTI
Poonam Dhillon and Hema Malini. PIC/PTI

And Dharmendra, Hema (cutting such a handsome figure together-sigh) and Vinod Khanna in the front row too was expected, though people had thought Kirron Kher would get more prominent seating.

Salman Khan and Dharmendra PIC/PTI
Salman Khan and Dharmendra PIC/PTI

(Though true to her joie de vivre, she happily chatted away with Varun Gandhi in the back). But who would have thought Poonam Dhillon would be invited. Hadn’t she been a Congress supporter not so very long ago? Hands down Vivek Oberoi was the joker in the pack though; no one had known of his connection to the Modi regime.

And along with this, everyone commented about Amitabh’s absence; after all, the brand ambassador of Gujarat must have received an invite. Similarly, Aamir’s absence was noted: after his aunt Najma Heptulla was being sworn in as a Cabinet Minister! Speaking of which, everyone thought Smriti Irani did the Telly industry proud with her well-modulated oath taking.

5) Which brings me to the manner in which the new Cabinet members chose to take their oaths. Was it just me-or was everyone really speaking a bit too emphatically, a bit too energetically, a tad too determinedly?

After the lax, wishy-washy laconic speaking style of the past regime-India’s new cabinet came across as if it had drunk one coffee too many, all wired up and raring to go.

And while on the topic, wasn’t Pranab Mukherjee’s ‘golgoppa and rosogolla’ congratulations to all the new ministers, many of whom he had crossed swords with in his Congress days a bit too sweet?

6) What a plethora of subtext and slights and snubs and slips was the swearing-in last evening. Sonia looking grim as people filed past her, barely daring to catch her eye; Rahul looking unshaven and glum (in pic), Manmohan Singh looking surprisingly more energised than he’d been while in the PM post; his wife Gursharan Kaur standing up and bowing low graciously as the new order filed past her; Nawaz Sharif spending a noted amount of time greeting Manmohan (in pic), their chat displaying their easy camaraderie, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gliding through the ceremony as if on a cloud; the loony fringe led by Sadhvi Rithambara as reminders of what might pass, a debonair Gavaskar looking visibly moved by it all (Was Sachin there?) the absence of Baba Ramdev, the sound of sparrows chirruping over the announcements, Pranab sharply reprimanding members to stick to the written text in front of them; and the thing that cracked me up most: an officious woman’s voice urgently saying, “Lower the mike, the mike, lower it!” just before calling Sushma Swaraj to take her oath.

7) So, for many years to come, we will think back on last evening as the dawn of a new era, and remember it for the candid vignettes of a new order being initiated: Rajnath Singh’s rising along with Modi to congratulate the new ministers very much like he was Deputy PM, Nawaz Sharif entering self consciously, aware of every eye on him as he walked in, the held breath moment when Uma Bharti stomped on to the podium and no one knew if this legendary loose cannon would spring a surprise on everyone; the urbane Piyush Goyal bringing in a Mumbai savoir faire to the proceedings; and of course- Narendra Modi, the newly minted Prime Minister of the Republic of India, in power, in the moment, completely in command. ‘OK guys, tamasha over; time to switch off the TVs, roll up the sleeves and getting to work on nation building!’

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