Now that the Bihar election is done and dusted, the PM is ready to travel abroad again. PM could very well be singing that John Denver song, “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, I’m standin here outside your door, I hate to wake you up to say goodbye.......coz I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again.” He will be back, yes, only to go again. Beginning Wednesday, PM Modi will be travelling to UK, Turkey, Israel, Malaysia, Singapore and Russia, before the year is out. He hops in and out of Delhi between these visits.
PM Narendra Modi arrives at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York in September. In the last two months of 2015, he will travel to six countries. File pic
The visits come on the back of a stunning loss for the BJP in Bihar’s Assembly elections. And the Prime Minister led from the front. There is no denying that however much the BJP spokespersons might say that Bihar was not a referendum on the 18-month tenure of the NDA, by raising the profile of the campaign to such great heights, the BJP made it one.
The Modi-Shah combo that has won several elections will have to do some course correction before the next few states go to polls. The Bihar result may even mean changes in decisions that the government takes in the months to come. It is certainly not going to be easy to pass bills in Parliament, and to get the Opposition to agree on anything will be an uphill task.
Digital India, Facebook pe charcha and the mammoth NRI jamborees did not impress Young India in Bihar. The PM got a lot of maan-sammaan abroad, but the Bihari voter was smarting against the sting to his ego. He was even willing to accept Mandal2 rather than India Shining.
But PM Modi’s focus in the two months left of 2015 is going to be on foreign affairs. He is travelling to six countries in two months. That’s a lot of work put in by foreign office mandarins to finalise meetings, work on joint communiqués, memoranda of understanding, bilateral and multi-lateral meetings, receptions, dinners, working lunches, press briefings, logistics. Humungous effort by the short-staffed foreign office. And the Boss-man, who works seemingly tirelessly for hours on end, demanding as much from his colleagues and juniors, works them to the bone. Didn’t they say he is a man in a hurry? In the 18 months in office, he has betrayed no signs of slowing down. Neither in domestic agenda nor in international engagements.
PM Modi’s first foreign visit was to Bhutan in May 2014. He covered most of the neighbourhood in the past year, going to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Fiji and Seychelles. He has also travelled twice to the United States and to Canada, Germany, France, Ireland, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Australia, Singapore, China, Mongolia, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and UAE.
The Opposition has poked fun at the PM’s love to travel abroad, accusing him of a misplaced sense of priorities. Many columnists have also argued that the state visits lack substance and are high on drama and rhetoric, low on substance.
Having covered some of these visits, I can doubly vouch for the fact that drama is aplenty. From the moment Air India-One puts out its landing gear and even before touch down, there are scores of people of Indian origin eagerly waving flags, dancing to Bollywood numbers, holding banners of “We love Modi”. And with élan befitting a Prime Minister of the most populous democracy in the world, Mr Modi ensures that NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) are met with the respect and warmth that they hope for and, quite frankly, deserve.
The BJP does not shy away from dramatics. And nor does this PM. It is in stark contrast to the earlier UPA government and Prime Minister. Don’t like it? Tough. Neither the party nor the PM wants to tone it down to suit anybody’s highbrow tastes. But the Bihar verdict has now befallen upon this globally minded PM. The message could well be look ‘domestic’ and implement a domestic social and economic agenda for which Mr Modi was voted to power. Maybe it is time to unpack and stay at home and make policies work in India before the next electoral battle. The message of Bihar 2015 is that it is all about delivering a quality of life. That was promised in 2014. People don’t believe it has been delivered just as yet.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash