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Irresistible Nehru factor

- From Vajpayee to Modi, a curious connection

New Delhi, May 25: Narendra Modi personally chose May 26 as the date to be sworn into office because he hopes to recast himself as Prime Minister in elements of Jawaharlal Nehru’s persona after having built a suitably different narrative around Vallabhbhai Patel during the build-up to the Lok Sabha election that catapulted him into Nehru’s chair.

May 27 is the 50th death anniversary of Nehru. Once he is sworn in as Prime Minister on the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan at 6pm on Monday, Modi, according to his schedule now under preparation, will enter the Prime Minister’s Office next door only the following day.

May 27 is when the entire nation pays homage to the country’s first Prime Minister who enjoys a special place not only in India’s history but also of the then colonised world.

Several other dates were proposed, largely based on astrological advice, for the swearing-in, according to accounts by BJP leaders who are involved in the process, but the Prime Minister-designate firmly insisted on May 26 with no other alternative.

Modi did not, however, link the Nehru anniversary to his assumption of office in any conversations on these plans. Several people engaged in the preparations knew what was on his mind, but none of them chose to verbalise his inner thoughts on the matter.

BJP leaders have a curious relationship with Nehru which outsiders often fail to comprehend. By the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee became external affairs minister in the Janata Party government in 1977, he had already criticised Nehru extensively in Parliament and outside.

So the babus in the external affairs ministry took down and consigned to the attic a picture of Nehru that had adorned the minister’s office. Vajpayee had noticed that picture during his many visits to South Block as a member of Parliament.

When he set foot in the same office in his avatar as minister and noticed that Nehru’s photograph had vanished, the first question he asked was about its fate. Embarrassed babus mumbled that it had been removed, obviously to suit the political change from the Congress to the Janata party.

A livid Vajpayee ordered that Nehru’s picture be restored to its original place forthwith in the external affairs minister’s office.

According to the itinerary for Monday at the time of writing, Modi will go directly after being sworn in to a banquet being hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee for the new council of ministers and the special guests from abroad.

That leaves him with no time to go to his office on Monday. He will do so only on the day that is observed as Nehru’s death anniversary.

Several ministerial certainties from the BJP were keen on a morning ceremony of oath-taking because it aligned with their stars. At one meeting this writer is privy to, Rajnath Singh, the BJP president, argued for a 9am swearing-in.

It was not feasible because the sun would be merciless by that time on invitees to the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Modi did not appear to have any obsession with astrology, unlike many of his colleagues, according to several people who watched his reactions.

As the deadline for finalising the arrangements approached, it was the Prime Minister-designate who had the final say. He told all those who were engaged in the exercise that he wanted to be sworn in with an association to godhuli lagna.

That denotes the twilight of dusk when cattle return home from pastures. A huge amount of dust raised by the hoofs of cattle is believed to have the power to ward off evil. Godhuli, the light of dusk, is also believed to spread hope, which many people see the Lok Sabha election results to be.

Such symbolism apart, many believe that by invoking godhuli Modi ensured that he would only start work formally in the Prime Minister’s Office on Nehru’s death anniversary even if he would be sworn in a day earlier.


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