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Histrionics, ‘hope’ on Modi’s first day

- "Welcome, welcome... grand victory, grand victory... I have the pleasure to appoint you as the Prime Minister of India"

Commandos escort Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s car as he leaves Rashtrapati Bhavan after meeting the President on Tuesday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, May 20: Toil, sweat, histrionics and tears congealed at a moment of history when Narendra Modi took centre-stage today as Prime Minister-elect in Parliament after winning absolute majority for the BJP.

Modi was unanimously “elected” leader of the BJP-NDA parliamentary party by the newly elected MPs of the coalition in Parliament’s august Central Hall where he said he was stepping in for the first time.

Panned by detractors for not being appropriately respectful towards the Constitution after the 2002 communal frenzy in Gujarat, Modi celebrated the “sanctity” of Parliament, extolled the statute as a “most sacred text”, described Indian democracy as a testimony to the country’s “innate strength” and accepted that every government it has had since Independence had “virtues and flaws”.

Pranab Mukherjee is all smiles during his meeting with Modi, whom he greeted with a “welcome, welcome, welcome” and congratulated on his “grand victory, grand victory”. The President handed the BJP leader a letter appointing him the Prime Minister and invited him to form
the government. (AFP)

His first gesture after getting off his heavily fortified SUV in Parliament’s porch was to place his forehead on the first step, carpeted in green. Old-timers couldn’t recall when a lawmaker had paid this kind of obeisance on the outer portal. Some touch the floor of the House to which they have been elected before taking oath.

If that stunned Parliament’s staff, there was more in store: his eyes welled up when he spoke of how he missed Atal Bihari Vajpayee today.

“This is a temple of democracy and we are all here in the temple with a sense of absolute purity,” Modi said in his acceptance speech from the lectern of the Hall, filled with portraits of past Prime Ministers and eminent freedom fighters.

He said he was here for the first time: “This is the story of my life. Call it destiny. It was only after I became the (Gujarat) chief minister, (that) I went into the legislature for the first time.”

He had a message for everyone. While political corridors were abuzz with ministerial aspirants and their preferred portfolios, Modi’s point-blank advice was: “We are not here to hanker after posts. The 125 crore who have sent us here have expectations that we must pledge to fulfil. Therefore, posts are not a big thing. We have to prepare to surrender ourselves.”

Verdict 2014, he asserted, was not just an anti-establishment vote. “Some elements of anti-incumbency were at play. But a full majority for the BJP showed people have reposed hope, confidence and faith in us. It was an election signifying hope.”

Modi holds up the President’s letter outside Rashtrapati Bhavan. Picture by Prem Singh

Hope was a recurring theme. “I am a very optimistic man. Only an optimistic man can bring optimism in the country,” he said. “A new hope has arisen in the common man. This is the biggest significance of these election results. At the end of the day, for whom is the government? It is for the poor.”

But he stressed that people couldn’t live on hope alone. Hope had to be preceded by hard work and Modi proffered his example to illustrate the point. “On September 13 (2013), the BJP’s parliamentary board handed over a responsibility (as Prime Minister candidate). I started work on September 15 with my heart and soul, with a worker’s dedicationů when the organisation hands out a responsibility, one should fulfil it with every pore in one’s body, every second in one’s day,” he said.

When he submitted the final report of the work accomplished to party chief Rajnath Singh after campaigning ended on May 10, his only regret, Modi said, was he could not address one meeting in Ghosi (east Uttar Pradesh) because the district BJP president had suddenly passed away.

Modi recalled that in early 2013, when the BJP’s national council met in Delhi shortly after he won the Gujarat election, he had said: “Ham chale ya naa chale, desh chal pada (whether we, the BJP, move or not, the country has moved on).”

That statement was construed as the first indication from Modi that he was ordained to lead the BJP in 2014. “Today, as I address the BJP MPs here, I can say, yes, the country has moved on.”

He didn’t just revel in victory. “Many of us, including me, were born in post-Independent India. This is the first government of post-Independent leaders. The earlier leaders were born under colonial rule. We did not have the good fortune to fight for Independence, die for the country or spend our youth in jails. But we now have an opportunity to live for the country even if we could not die for it. Our lifetime pledge should be, let us live for the country,” he said.

“Every moment we spend should become a message of hope and not of despair,” he went on. “Crises come. In 2001, there was a massive earthquake and Gujarat was shrouded by a blanket of death. The world thought Gujarat would never come out of it. We not only stood on our feet, we began running. My message to the country is never give upů. If 125 crore people take a single step forward, the country will move by leaps and bounds. Look how nature has blessed us. We have six seasons. Our people earn big names when they get an opportunity to shine abroad.”

Eulogising the “commitment” displayed by BJP workers, Modi said: “I saw workers who were barely clothed but they carried a BJP flag on their shoulders. These people have come to us with hopes and aspirations. We have to fulfil their dreams.”

Modi said he did not believe that the Manmohan Singh dispensation did nothing for the welfare of the people. “They did whatever they could. They deserve appreciation for whatever good they did,” he said.

“People voted for hope and aspirations,” he said in an indirect response to Sonia Gandhi’s assessment yesterday that the Congress lost because of “an aggressive and polarising campaign by our opponents, which was backed by unlimited resources and a hostile media”.

Modi also addressed charges that his concerns were limited to that of corporate India. His government, he said, would dedicate itself for the “poor, (the) crores and crores of youths and for the safety and security of mothers and sisters (and) those in rural areas”.