09 June 2014 Last Page

Delhi Diary

Vindictiveness was a trait attributed by many to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, we have seen precisely the opposite.

So Far, So Good

Vindictiveness was a trait attributed by many to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had made numerous enemies inside his party and outside—and they were petrified when he led the BJP to a personal victory. Well, we’ve seen nothing of the revenge impulse yet. In fact, we have seen precisely the opposite.

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Take the media, for instance. One of the first things the new I&B minister, Prakash Javadekar, stressed was freedom of the press, pointing out that he himself came from a family of journalists. Therefore, he claimed his commitment to a free press should be taken for granted. Furthermore, the minister dismissed fears that some kind of witch-hunt of journalists, who had been identified as hostile to Modi, may be in the offing. Nothing of that kind was going to happen, the minister promised. Finally, the government had no plans for external regulation. Javadekar favoured self-regulation.

Then we had the prime minister himself writing a letter to Jaswant Singh, who had left the party in acrimony to fight as an independent from Barmer. When Jaswant lost, it was assumed it was the end of his political career. Mr Modi invited Jaswant Singh to contribute to “nation-building”. An open-ended invitation which might see Jaswant return to the party and the government.

More: Sushma Swaraj, by no means a Modi chum, has not been punished and put into some marginal slot but gets the external affairs ministry—one of the Big 4 in the cabinet. He has also resisted the temptation of moving the governor of the Reserve Bank, Raghuram Rajan, a UPA appointee. Altogether, very encouraging developments.

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12th Pass? Great

This pat on the back to Smriti Zubin Irani (nee Malhotra) should be of special interest to her because it comes from a BA third class. The news that our new HRD minister is just class 12 pass is music to my ears. Now, I am doubly sure she will make an excellent minister.

Of all the talent Prime Minister Modi has discov­e­red, none is as refreshing and as audacious as Smriti Irani. She is only 38, articulate, pleasant, funny and possesses wonderful communication skills. From a soap opera queen, she has become the queen of the Narendra Modi council of ministers. And to think just 12 years ago she was languishing in some dubious studios making mediocre TV serials.

Educational qualifications can be overplayed. Just look at Dr Manmohan Singh, with all the degrees he collected from Oxford and Cambridge. They didn’t do him much good. Then consider the contribution of people who dropped out of school or did not go to university. Such luminaries include the inventor Thomas Edison, the politician-philosopher Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, Einstein, Richard Branson, Charles Dickens.... The greatest foreign correspondent of this century began his journalistic career as a copy boy. His name was James Cameron and he married a lady from Kerala.

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Do not worry Smriti, you are in fine company.


Democracy’s Grand Show

Watch­ing Modi and his ministers take their oath of office on Monday brought out the best in our country. It was a magnificent affair. The spectacle was worthy of the event. The lit forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the ceremonial guards, the fountains in full flow, the orderly 4,000 guests, the sound of trumpets, the splendid background of India Gate, the playful evening dusk, the brief and crisp actual ceremony, the flight of pigeons.... The majesty of the setting and the majesty of the occasion matched perfectly. It was a sight fit for the gods.

I was, unfortunately, holed up in a studio in Noida and saw the whole thing on a TV screen. Still, it was spectacular. Since I was not invited, even if I hadn’t been in the Times Now studios, I’d have had to see it on TV. As I watched the event, I kept wondering what the SAARC presidents and prime ministers, especially Nawaz Sharif, were thinking. Were they envious? For all the faultlines of Indian democracy, we do transition of power really well. After the name-calling and the vilification of opponents, everyone gets together in a spirit of harmony to ensure the change of government is dignified.

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Best Nose for News

Jawid Laiq, the veteran journalist, has always managed to predict the correct election result. Two weeks before polling date, he goes to Allahabad and talks to the Nishads (boatmen) who ferry pilgrims to the Sangam. The Nishads listen to them chatter, which includes voting intentions. Jawid then reports what the boatmen tell him in the Hindustan Times; he has been doing so since 1977. This year too he wrote in the HT on May 4 that the Nishads were predicting “a massive Modi win”. Some channel should quickly hire Jawid. He is cheaper than opinion polls—and he doesn’t goof up.


Last week...

I discovered Editor has a bad case of thyroid. He may need surgery. Pray for him.


Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com

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