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Is frequent flyer Modi overdoing it?

By Sunita Iyer
August 20, 2015 09:08 IST
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How much money the Modi government has already spent and is going to spend on all those foreign trips, muses Sunita Iyer.

Over breakfast today, my mother, who’s hardly ever interested in all the political drama that takes place in India, innocently said, “Whenever I switch on the TV to get my daily dose of news, all I come across is Modi is here, Modi is there... Modi is everywhere!”

She continued, "He just returned from Dubai. Sometime ago he was in China. I also remember he went to the United States... Oh! Wait, how can I forget his Madison Square Garden speech?"

Modi with Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on the first day of his two-day visit to the UAE, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Sunday. Photograph: PTI

She blankly ogled at the TV for a while and went back to having her breakfast.

I looked at her innocent expression. I didn’t know how to respond.

My mind wandered for a bit before it recalled Modi’s words from that famous speech, “In Ahmedabad, you hire an auto and it will cost you Rs 10/km, but we travelled 650 million km at Rs 7/km. Even before I came to US from India, MOM already reached Mars.”

I spoke to myself, “Indeed that was an awesome achievement.” I paused for a moment and tried hard to recollect a path-breaking deal from that American sojourn. I failed. My mind went blank.”

Like my favourite detective Sherlock Holmes would do while trying hard to recollect something, I too paid a visit to my Mind Palace.

I walked into the door that read, “PM Modi’s foreign visits”.

A painter creates a portrait of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden in New York. Photograph: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

Boom! A blinding ray of light flashed and all I could see was, “Bhutan, Brazil, Nepal, Japan, the US , Myanmar, Australia, Fiji, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Singapore, France, Germany, Canada, China, Mongolia, South Korea, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and United Arab Emirates.”

Phewwwwwwwww!!!

I returned to reality and wondered, “Wow. He’s been on so many foreign tours, but why is it that my Mind Palace didn’t throw up any of his achievements abroad?”

"A billion people voted this man to power. Obviously, they saw something awesome in him. But, in the past one year, why is it that my mind or for that matter my mom’s mind only got cluttered with his foreign tours?"

Modi tries his hand at archery at the mini Naadam Festival in Mongolia. Photograph: @MEA/Twitter

When India went into elections in May 2014, the nation desperately needed a change. The country was fed up with the Congress’ lacklustre governance. They were annoyed with a spineless and toothless prime minister (who most people argued was a puppet of SoniaG).

In such a scenario a change looked evident, with most Indians praying for a much-needed ‘Modi’-fication. The entire nation rejoiced and celebrated when Modi took over as India’s prime minister. It wasn’t just hopeful eyes, but hopeful hearts too that stared at Modi.

Less than a month into his new role, Modi took off to Bhutan -- the first of many overseas stamp on the Indian prime minister’s passport. Initially, most people were totally gobsmacked at Modi’s enterprising nature and straightaway started praising his ambition to uplift India’s image at a global stage.

Modi poses with the head lama at the Daxingshan Temple in X'ian. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter 

Political watchers believed that his foreign trips were aimed to boost his core electoral promise of giving Indians more job opportunities through Foreign Direct Investment.

But with time, upon seeing his never-ceasing foreign tours, a certain section of people started questioning if Modi was overdoing it.

For a common man, like my mother, these foreign trips are slowly becoming a point of mockery now. For someone who is sitting in her house trying to maintain peace within her four walls, how much are these foreign tours really helping?

She wonders. I wonder too.

It is most definitely refreshing to see an Indian lauded amongst some of the best political leaders of the world. It’s also delightful to hear his fiery speeches on foreign soil, with the Indian diaspora cheering him away to glory.

Given the fact that Modi comes from a humble background, it sure is inspiring to see him dine and chat with the best minds world over. But for some time now, his overseas visits have started giving the common man an impression that the PM spends more time away than at home and all he cares about is his ‘image building’ exercise! (Don’t forget the selfies!)

Modi enjoys the sights and scenes in Paris as he enjoys a boat ride down the river Seine. Photograph: MEAIndia/Facebook

Obviously our very own RahulG aka Pappu thinks the same too. During the budget session this year, the Congress vice-president (mind you who himself went on an unannounced sabbatical) took a dig at Modi’s foreign tours and said, “Our prime minister is visiting India. He is here for a few days. He can visit Punjab, talk to the farmers, talk [to the farmers] in the market. He will understand what’s going on.” (I know you may not care much about what he has to say, but this was only for you to have some LOL moment!)

Earlier this year, I came across an incident where an Indian male student was denied admission in a German university with the lady professor citing ‘India’s rape problem’ as the reason.

When BBC released the documentary ‘India’s daughters’, the entire nation sprung into a frenzy. And tragically people world over were reminded of the horrific Nirbhaya case.

The result: Fingers were pointed back at India over its safety and security measures.

Modi greets Bhutan King King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk. Photograph: PIB

FLUSH! Suddenly all the money and effort spent in building India’s image seemed to have gone into the drain 

The last thing an Indian would want is for the world to have a negative perception about his/her country. Honestly all it takes is just one black incident, forcing me to wonder if the government has overlooked all the domestic problems we face and focused more on building relationships with other nations?

Yes, there are the Swachh Bharats and the Jan Dhan Yojanas

If you’re a Modi supporter, you obviously hate me by now for even daring to write something against him. I know you will immediately start spelling his report card and praise his countless initiatives.

To name a few you would remind me about:

  • The Swachh Bharat mission -- A mission that promises to make India a filth free country
  • The Jan Dhan Yojana -- A program that encourages savings, and creates a direct channel for subsidies straight into bank accounts.
  • The proposed Smart Cities and the Clean Ganga project
  • The Beti Bachao Andolan -- A program that aims to save girl child and educate her

Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes a tour of the Cheonggyecheon Stream urban renewal project. He praised the vision that converted the once-dirty stream into a modern public recreation space in downtown Seoul. Photograph: MEAIndia/Flickr

There is no doubt that some of the initiatives the government has undertaken are really promising and encouraging. But in a country like India where more than two-third of the population still lives in villages, is just launching initiatives enough?

What about all the ground work and the leg work that’s really needed to ensure its implementation?

Rural India still faces problems of connectivity, water, waste disposal, farmer suicides, land issues, drought etc. Is the government really doing enough to handle these pressing issues?

Not just the villages, but cities too have their own issues. If you’re sitting in a posh office in Bangalore or Mumbai right now, your biggest concern would probably be the gaping potholes puncturing your city’s roads.

You would agree if I said that every time you hit one of those dreaded ruts you ended up cursing the government. And there is a high chance that you might end up saying or at least thinking, “How would the PM know what we go through, he is comfortably flying around the world in his private jet.”

Following Modi’s recent Singapore visit, a right to information applicant based out of Modi’s land, Ahmedabad, sought information regarding the expenses incurred on his visit to attend the funeral of the founding prime minister of Singapore, Lee Yuan Kew.

In response, the Prime Minister’s Office refused to divulge any information saying it is too vague and wide. Between 2004 and 2013, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spent over Rs 642 crore on his air travels abroad and I wonder, how much money the Modi government has already spent and is going to spend on all those foreign trips?

Agreed that Modi promised a strong foreign policy to the people of India after he took oath on May 26, 2014 in front of prominent global leaders, including Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif.

But after over year in office and upon seeing his countless foreign trips, I’ve been forced to question if there is a real need to stretch diplomacy to such an extent?

I visit my Mind Palace again and this time my darling detective himself decides to speak to me. All he says is, “My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

Sigh!!!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Folomojo.com or Rediff.com

Also read: 

These 8 inspiring Swachh Bharat success stories will make Modi, Gandhi and every other Indian proud

Celebrating one year of Modi Sarkar with the PM’s best selfies. You might be next!

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Sunita Iyer
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