A true leader embraces history to supersede geography, even if it is interstellar. Can a warm hug after a reversal become a symbol of both national unity and nationalism? Yes, if the hug comes from India’s most popular and powerful Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Last week, he didn’t take up space on prime time or the front pages for hugging a President, a Prime Minister or a celebrity, but for clasping a weeping space scientist to his 56” chest. The photograph of the PM hugging Dr K Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), after India’s Moon Mission failed to complete its last mile journey became an iconic image of emotional triumph over adversity. He lifted ISRO’s spirits and converted a scientific setback into a national celebration of space power.
A marginal failure was hailed as a massive victory. After the hug, the Prime Minister said in his 25-odd minute address to the scientists, “Your eyes said a lot and I could read the sadness on your face. I have lived those moments with you.” He explained the reason why he did not linger with them but came back only in the morning—not to preach but to inspire and be inspired by them. The effort was worth it. So was the journey. He said, “It will make us stronger and better nation. There will be a new dawn and brighter tomorrow very soon ... I am with you, nation is with you.” Soon after he concluded his remarks with “Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” not only India but the entire world hailed ISRO’s mojo and not its partial failure. Modi’s hug went viral and was seen by over 100 million people worldwide. Over 200 million ecstatically expressed themselves on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Never before have digital media outfits smiled all the way to the bank as each and every virtual communication network was choked with pictures, texts and memes.
Taking the cue from Modi, film stars, corporate leaders, foreign dignitaries and credible opinion makers also took to social media to express their solidarity with ISRO. Anand Mahindra, Chairman of the M&M Group, tweeted, “The communication isn’t lost. Every single person in India can feel the heartbeat of #chandrayaan2. We can hear it whisper to us that ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” He was promptly followed by Anushka Sharma, Bollywood star and wife of cricketer Virat Kohli, “These are only steps forward and not backward and we as a nation stand by, celebrate and are very proud of our scientists at @isro for their perseverance and achievements so far. You all are truly inspiring.” The prime ministers of Bhutan, Mauritius, Maldives and a former Sri Lankan president hailed ISRO for its outstanding performance. NASA was, for a change, compelled to acknowledge India’s genius in space technology. The US agency tweeted: “Space is hard. We commend @ISRO’s attempt to land their #Chandrayaan2 mission on the Moon’s South Pole. You have inspired us with your journey and look forward to future opportunities to explore our solar system together.”
From teens to octogenarians, Indians were competing to express their solidarity with India’s space agency. Almost the entire nation stayed awake till the wee hours, waiting to see the Lander Vikram stroll majestically on the darker side of the lunar surface. The chatteratti held special late night parties to witness history in the making. When the communication link snapped, Indians were cheering for it to come back and continue to touch base with the nation. Modi had landed in Bengaluru hoping to see India’s conquest of the moon. He flew back to Mumbai not as a dispirited individual, but as a leader whose ability to translate all events and exercises into acts of achievement and national pride is unparalleled. This support has encouraged ISRO to reassert its resolve to continue lunar expeditions. Chandrayaan-2 would have gone where no country had ever gone before—the Moon’s south polar region. According to ISRO, “the aim was to improve our understanding of the Moon—discoveries that will benefit India and humanity as a whole.
These insights and experiences aimed at a paradigm shift in how lunar expeditions are approached for years to come—propelling further voyages into the farthest frontiers.” Though the dream was shattered, it was applauded for achieving over 95% success by using totally indigenously developed techniques and instruments at minimum cost. Modi defined Chandrayaan-2 as the new symbol of aspirational India. In his subsequent election speech in Haryana, he remarked, “On the night of September 7, 100 seconds after 1.50 am an incident awakened and united the entire country. Like (there is) a sportsman spirit, an ISRO spirit is running in the country. Countrymen are not ready to accept negativity. In those 100 seconds whatever the country did, it reflected the mettle of 125 crore countrymen.”
In fact, Chandrayaan-2 is yet another example of how Modi invents new slogans, schemes and projects, which not only acquire national eminence but also become people’s movements. They are weapons, too, to demolish the Opposition. The PM started with Swacch Bharat to transform the country’s ‘ Dirty India’ image by involving national celebrities from media to entertainment. Then came Digital India followed by Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Start-up India. After winning a second term, he junked Article 370 and Article 35A from the Constitution. He made Triple Talaq a criminal offence and launched the Fit India campaign. His slogan “If Body Fit hain to Mind hit hain,” was a massive hit with the youth. His predecessors had also introduced various welfare measures, none of which were converted into Jan Andolans.
The association and identification of the masses—irrespective of caste and creed—with his ideological and administrative endeavours is the mantra for the success of Modified India. NaMo has mastered the art of reaching out straight to the people, thereby making them stakeholders in the destiny of India. He talks to them directly. He delivers directly. Narendra Modi is the first leader to use national security and economics to promote nationalism. He has now made secularism a politically incorrect proposition. By celebrating a partial success as a vision with a monumental mission, Modi is determined to make glamorous liberalism an irrelevant narrative.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla