Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Manmohan Singh at the inauguration of a museum at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Friday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 25: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence, broken occasionally on Twitter and in “vision” speeches delivered at train or rocket launches, has earned him the label “Maunmohan 2” and brought his government’s spin doctors rushing to his defence.
At least three senior and articulate BJP leaders were at pains today to convince a few journalists that Modi was “hands-on”, much more so than the BJP’s first Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that he was boned up on every ministry, would not countenance laggards and conspirators, and refused to accept “excuses” to curtail Parliament sessions.
The PR flurry came on a day a news portal that was seen to be favourable to him in the election run-up highlighted Modi’s silence, and days after the Washington Post asked why the “over-sharing” BJP leader who talked “breathlessly” during the campaign had suddenly gone quiet. It quoted several media reports questioning Modi’s silence on all big issues confronting his government, including price rise.
Firstpost, the news portal, compared Modi with his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, whose long silences had become the butt of unkind jokes towards the end of his second term. “The sounds of silence: When Narendra Modi becomes Maunmohan 2,” the headline said. “Maun-Mohan Singh” was how Modi had mocked Manmohan in some election speeches, playing on the word maun (mute).
The three BJP leaders, who called journalists today but asked not to be named, appeared to suggest that Modi was too busy working to talk or even attend Parliament.
The Prime Minister’s absence from the Lok Sabha — he was not present even when finance minister Arun Jaitley replied to the discussion on the general budget — has been questioned by the Opposition. The BJP would criticise Manmohan, who was particular about attending Parliament, if a foreign trip was scheduled during session but has offered no explanation for Modi staying away.
“Modiji is a conscientious parliamentarian. He wants the session to last its course and has asked his ministers to pull up their socks and line up business,” a BJP leader said. Modi was exercised by reports, emanating from within his government, of the session being curtailed for want of legislative business to keep it on until August 14, he said.
Jaitley, in charge of finance and defence, has six or more bills for passage, including that on raising the FDI cap in insurance; I&B minister Prakash Javadekar has one on upgrading the academic status of film and TV institutes in Pune and Calcutta; HRD minister Smriti Irani is fine-tuning four bills. Government sources hoped these, together with the scheduled discussions on the supplementary demands-for-grants of six ministries, would keep Parliament occupied in the coming weeks after a two-day break for Id on Monday and Tuesday.
The spin doctors said Modi does not take no for an answer from his ministers. When a minister raised questions over the feasibility of inter-linking rivers, a pet project of the BJP, Modi said he had achieved it in Gujarat and there was no reason why it couldn’t be done the country over.
“If a minister complains he cannot get work done for one reason or the other, his response is, 'then why are you there as a minister? Come to me only if your problem is intractable,'” a BJP leader said.
Another recounted that when a Trinamul Congress MP alleged that Speaker Sumitra Mahajan was a “Modi mouthpiece”, a stung Modi got his ministers to work the phone lines to Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to convey that this was not on. The MP apologised in the House. “Do not underestimate Modiji, he knows how to run a government, Parliament, he understands the dynamics of power politics very well,” the source said.
Modi had told his ministers, including those from the allies, that patronage of family and friends would not be allowed when advisory panels and other ministry-related committees were set up. The members would be picked only on merit, the source said.
The Prime Minister has emphasised that mandate 2014 was for him and, therefore, his cabinet colleagues should do nothing that could tar his credibility and image.