The hits and misses in Modi’s 6-hour ‘Ek Nayi Subah’ show
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The last time I saw a state anniversary celebration running into multiple hours was in 2012 when the Queen of England celebrated her Diamond Jubilee as Queen. That show lasted 4 hours and was telecast on BBC, and featured some of Britain’s most famous and talented comediennes and musicians. And while Charles and Camilla and the princelings were in attendance, the Queen herself only made an appearance at the end of the gala.
Saturday’s gala two-year anniversary celebrations seemed to be our Make In India version of the Queen’s understated party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his own understated way, decided that he should highlight his and his government’s achievements by organizing a 6-hour-long celebration called ‘Ek Nayi Subah’ on the India Gate lawns. Instead of comedians and musicians, we had actors and ministers. And much like the Queen, the guest of honour Modi entered the sets five hours twenty-four minutes later, at 10.24pm, when it was literally close to being ek nayi subah.
I watched the entire show diligently on Doordarshan, other than for five minutes when Tata Sky decided to give me some shut-eye thanks to the rains. It’s exactly in those five minutes that actress Kajol seems to have appeared and vanished. And no, she didn’t speak of her husband’s name appearing in the Panama Papers.
Now, to be fair, there were some moments which pleased me greatly about the show, which I will get to chronologically.
Let’s start from the very beginning. A fancy AC set was built on the lawns with around 50 people seated in it. Now the problem with DD, as I’ve realised over many hours of watching television is that, come what may, come who may, for some reason any and every show on DD takes on a soporific and preachy air.
Despite the formerly angry young man and current politician for any party in power, Amitabh Bachchan, kicking off the show, nothing could save the dull sanctimony of tone. Bachchan as we all know is brand ambassador of the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ government initiative.
The gala was hosted by actor R. Madhavan and one of the DD news readers. Madhavan praised Big B, Big B looked embarrassed, then Big B told us about the initiative and finally took questions from a group of young girls from Aarohan Sanstha, an NGO. Bachchan has a very easy manner with children, immediately putting them at ease. And it was nice to see his camaraderie with them, which made you almost forget that here was a man who had been part of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and now seemed to be the brand ambassador for all initiatives Modi. And was also a nameplace holder in the Panama Papers.
Now here is what I appreciated about the programme. When a celebrity of Bachchan’s stature stands on a national platform and tells people to educate their daughters and to treat them as equal to their sons, it makes far more of an impact than any moral science lesson or Mann Ki Baat. So if watching this show ends up in improving the lives of even 10 girls, that’s a silver lining.
I did feel that the entire conversation being in Hindi cuts out massive swathes of audiences who aren’t totally comfortable with the language. Which might explain why there are such few votes for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from West Bengal or south of The Vindhyas. Because no one understands what they’re saying. Why would you not have what was being said translated? Or have subtitles?
The first 15 minutes also made it clear what the format of this (at that time I had no clue it was for six hours) celebration would entail. Bachchan’s segment was followed by an ad break with an ad featuring Modi, actor Sharman Joshi telling us about Digital India, a Jaago Grahak Jaago ad, and a very emaciated rock band telling us about Digital India again.
This was followed by a panel discussion with Union ministers Kiren Rijiju, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, Jagat Prakash Nadda and Harsimrat Kaur, Vidisha Pillai from Save The Child, and actress Raveena Tandon who for some reason was in a black evening gown. Gandhi spoke about Childline, a child helpline system which I feel should be publicised as much as possible. She also spoke of streamlining adoption and the Khoya Paya website for lost-and-found children. I may not be a fan of Gandhi’s flip-flops on marital rape, but to give credit where due, many people who have used the new adoption website CARA have told me how professional the entire system has become. Nadda spoke about the government’s immunisation drive. Kaur about the wonder that is Modi and his love for the girl child and women. Keeping with the DD way of speaking, the anchor asked Raveena where her “prerna ka phool” for children had emerged from. Raveena spoke on how she had got the same opportunities as her brother and had taken in 30 children who were thrown out of an orphanage and that thanks to KJo and SRK she managed to buy land for setting up their orphanage.
Once again, it’s a great idea to have a celebrity on the panel, because I don’t think social awareness messages can be as effectively conveyed as they can by celebrities, at least in India, because Indians listen to no one as much as they do to celebrities. This was followed by a case study from Haridwar of Reshma Khan. And then we went to Karnal where a very poor tableau about the girl child was performed.
Then we moved on to the next scheme. The ‘Swacch Bharat Abhiyan’. We saw a video of 104-year-old Kunwarbai from Chhattisgarh, who sold her goats to build a toilet for the women in her village.
Followed by another panel discussion, which I must commend Ram Mandir-fan, Uma Bharti for. The panel which had Union ministers Uma Bharti and Birendra Singh, Neeraj Jain and Temsutula Emsong, a social worker from Varanasi and the CEO of Water Aid India, did the impossible. Menstruation and menstrual hygiene were discussed on a national platform, that too by and with men. Before that moment, of course, Singh praised Modi and himself. Bharti spoke about cleaning the Ganga. Jain spoke of the importance of toilets in rural schools so girls don’t drop out of school as that’s the reason for 23% of girls dropping out from school. He also spoke of menstrual hygiene. I was especially impressed by Uma Bharti’s request that sanitary napkins should be kept in school shauchalayas in case any young girl has an emergency requirement. To me, this made the following five hours slightly more palatable.
If it takes a 6-hour celebration to teach people to keep toilets clean, be hygienic, have good civic sense—so be it. Hopefully, this discussion would be a lesson for whoever may be watching the programme that menstruation isn’t contagious or a reason to quarantine women.
The Hindi handicap came up again though, when Emsong was forced to speak in stilted Hindi about the cleaning programmes in Varanasi.
This was also when the good times came to an end. Doordarshan or whoever had decided the programme flow seemed to believe that they’d cracked the formula. Praise the lord and his initiative by first having a celebrity-minister-and-corporate India-or-NGO representative panel discussion, followed by a song or dance performance.
Which is fine for an hour. Not for five hours and twenty-four minutes. There were more tableaus, a video on the Surat railway station which did look very clean. A video of Modi sweeping the streets (his grip on the broom can be improved though). Then much like Annie Lennox sang for the Queen, Kailash Kher sang for the country. Just before that, we shifted to Assam where we were told how the people loved the new chief minister.
Then there was a panel discussion on the electrification of India. A village of 30 people in Jharkhand, which has been electrified for the first time, was shown. It was more depressing than uplifting that in today’s India there are still 18,000 hamlets and villages, as stated by Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, without electricity. Paswan again spoke of adarniya Modiji.
It was all very trying by this time.
As the sun set on Delhi, Madhavan and his colleague were replaced by two news readers from DD. They spoke about the government programmes for farmers. Although there was no mention of the rise in farmer suicides or farmer debts—because why focus on bleakness? There was yet another panel discussion. Prince dance troupe performed.
By this time, I had started wilting because it was 3 hours into the show. The Soil Heath Card was discussed. Even the anchors looked bored and a little confused. There was yet another panel of ministers and experts.
We again got to see an ad about Beti Padhao. This time featuring Madhuri Dixit, Kareena Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra, Alia Bhatt, Frieda Pinto and Priyanka Chopra. An ad which they should have shown more than the ones where Modi zoomed into frame from the right of screen, scaring the beejezus out of me.
The Shillong Choir sang Saare Jahan Se Accha. A very cherubic Moti Khan sang Hum Honge Kamyaab.
Then there was a panel on Yuva Shakti. It had Union ministers Smriti Zubin Irani and V.K. Singh, MakeMyTrip founder Deep Kalra and minister of state Jitendra Singh. As an aside, is it a new trend for women to incorporate their husband’s entire name into theirs? Maneka Sanjay Gandhi. Smriti Zubin Irani. But that’s an article for another day.
Madhavan and his colleague returned with the Digital India panel. We heard about optical fibres, super computers, e-commerce.
After five hours, Modi tweeted that he was on his way. But this was not to be, because instead of Modi making an appearance, we started speaking about Make In India. Where was Modi? Was he taking the name of the show literally? Was he only going to show up when it was indeed ek nayi subah?
It had now been five hours.
Amitabh Bachchan and Piyush Pandey had taken centre-stage. And did not speak till they were told by Madhavan, “aap baatchieet shuru kijiye”. The banter was pointless.
While the show was on an ad-break, the PMO tweeted that Modi had started his speech. But it seems it had forgotten to tell DD to cut from their ad-break. Good planning.
And then FIVE HOURS TWENTY-FOUR MINUTES LATER, literally when a new day was about to dawn, Mr Modi, our “saarathi”, our “mananiya Pradhan Mantriji”, finally entered. He sounded tired, pensive, almost despondent. Had he also sat through the entire 5 hours, 24 minutes like the rest of us?
He told us about vikasvad and virodhvad. Every statement linked back to the corrupt Congress. Why even mention them? Let barking dogs bark, the Modi caravan should go on. The cribbing about the past, was interspersed with a litany of all the wonders achieved by this government and him. Gas connections, transparent coal auctions, ration cards. Much like the Queen, Modi praised himself in third person. One anecdote was that people keep telling him that, “Modiji you work so hard, why do people criticise you? Then I want to tell them, that those who were looting the country now can’t, so they will criticise me.” There was much criticism of the past government, more than praise for the present. It’s like spending your anniversary by carrying on bitching to your husband about his wretched ex-wife. Dwelling on the past isn’t the best way to win him over. Most worryingly, Modi said, “There are so many achievements of my government, that Doordarshan will have to telecast me live for a whole week.” I am sincerely hoping that he was being facetious.
All I can say is, if everything that was claimed will be achieved, actually is achieved, then the BJP will get voted back. If not, well, time will tell. I do dread to think how long the anniversary special will be that time round, though.