Modi, the Lone Superstar
NEW DELHI: There were many stars shining on the forecourt of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan on Monday evening but there was only one superstar. As Narendra Modi, impeccably dressed in shades of soft gold drove in to take oath as the 15th prime minister of India, chants of “Modi! Modi!” rent the air. Through the entire ceremony, he sat at the front row right corner, leaning back slightly, head raised in leonine inquiry, chin resting on his hand contemplatively and speaking very little. The posture of the prime minister held a gravitas that was not missed by his colleagues and fellow ministers. Next to him sat Rajnath Singh making a sartorial statement in a lightly striped black and white vest. Beside Rajnath were Sushma Swraj and Arun Jaitley. Nitin Gadkari wore a well-cut blue vest, and General VK Singh looked every inch a soldier in mufti, in a tan waistcoat and cuffed sleeves. Gone were the worry lines given by tense moments from faces that still bore the tan of the long and dusty summer campaign. Power had invested their visages with the glow that only comes with great authority, and their postures held an erectness that wasn’t there before, used as they were for the past months to hunching over election strategy plans and discussing political arithmetic.
All the hard work had paid off. It was a tight, but diverse cabinet that Modi had gathered around him. He seemed proud of them as he watched President Pranab Mukherjee impart the oath. The President himself looked imperial in a deep blue suit. His Nehru jacket was tailored to perfection and the chain of his pocket watch gleamed against the dark fabric. A choreography of personalities dominated the gigantic square: the experienced President, the new warrior king and the power play that spooled out before and after the ceremony.
Before Modi’s arrival, the chairs were filling up fast both in the VIP section and behind. Birds quenched their thirst from the plumes of fountains gurgling in the great water basins set high above at the corners of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan wings. In the forecourt, under the great black and ochre dome on which flew the Indian tricolor, the stage had been set for the coronation. As the harbinger of Modi's might , one of the first to arrive was Amit Shah in a brown striped kurta. He strolled around inspecting the arrangements, while a gaggle of leaders strove to catch his eye. Shah seemed oblivious to the attention.
As with all historical moments, there was static in the air, of change and expectations. Facing the great vermilion patch of earth on which the dais had been set up for the swearing-in, semicircular rows of hairs upholstered in white waited ready to seat four thousand. Political leaders, chief ministers, ministers-to-be and MPs stood around,chatting. UPA-II’s finance minister, P Chidamabaram beamed as if the cares of the world had slipped away—no more inflation or growth rate, it wasn’t his headache any more. Sonia Gandhi in a classy brown handloom sari walked in with Rahul, who discreetly chose a back row seat behind his mother. Manmohan Singh’s arrival invoked more curiosity than applause. In a natty blue blazer, the urbane, handsome Lt Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung looked affable and relaxed, waving to friends and acquaintances or raising his palm to his forehead in elegant adaabs. The heads of states seemed to share the excitement of being in the cusp of an age passing and a new era beginning, whether it be the confidently beaming Rajapaksha, the flamboyant Hamid Karzai or the elegantly traditional Tshering Tobgay. Nawaz Sharif, his face reddened by the summer sun, seemed unaccustomed to the heat. BJP paterfamilias LK Advani, the veteran of swearing in ceremonies arrived to a buzz, accompanied by his daughter Pratibha. For those few hours, the place turned into a theatre of power scripted with nuances: a pompous leader blessing hangers on; a dressy tycoon rushing to greet a taciturn Amit Shah while another trotted behind a nonchalant Gopinath Munde; the courteous Raman Singh shaking hands with bonhomie and a tall Anant Kumar wearing a saffron gamcha intently listening to colleagues as if matters of state were being discussed even before the government had been formally formed.
The grand ceremony, carried out speedily and efficiently had a light moment, though, when Ashok Gajapathi Raju failed to mention his name as he took the oath. “Say your name,.” the President snapped. The great perfectionist, presiding over the hour when history was being made would not tolerate even small mistakes. As the shadows of the dusk deepened into the night and the great spotlights spread golden illumination on the new emperor and his council arrayed around him, one could almost hear the ghosts of another time stealing away in wistful farewell. The morning was going to be different for India and the future.