New Delhi: Bollywood’s love affair with Prime Minister Narendra Modi just got a tiny bit tender. Days after the Election Commission banned the screening of a biopic on him, arguing it could skew the playing field, Modi sprang a Bollywood-laced strategic surprise on the nation.
It came in the form of a 60-minute-long “interview" with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, designed to showcase the softer, personal side of the prime minister’s personality. Modi called it “apolitical".
In the video, released to the media through news agency ANI, Modi said he had never dreamt of occupying the top job and that he isn’t the disciplinarian he is made out to be.
The timing of the Akshay Kumar interview, which experts said was aimed at making the election about Modi, is interesting—it was released on Wednesday, just five days before the fourth phase of 2019 Lok Sabha elections on 29 April.
“I never thought of becoming the prime minister. My mother would have been happy if I had got a good job. But my journey began and this is unnatural for me... I have never been able to understand why people have supported me so much," said Modi.
Denying reports that he is a strict disciplinarian, he said: “I have tried to develop a work culture because discipline cannot be imposed on people. I have tried to be disciplined. I like humour, but now it becomes difficult because it can be misconstrued for TRPs."
On his relationship with opposition leaders, Modi said West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sends him kurtas once a year that she personally selects for him. And just across the border, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sends him Bengali sweets at least 3-4 times a year.
Modi said the most “valuable" thing he brought with him to the job was his experience as Gujarat’s longest serving chief minister. “... I was Gujarat’s longest serving CM and as a CM you have to be very closely involved with issues and solve them. No other PM had this kind of experience. (Former Karnataka CM) H.D. Deve Gowda had been the PM, but that was for a brief period. This was an opportunity for me to serve the people of the country."
“This interview is part of a larger strategy of BJP to make the general election a referendum on Modi," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst associated with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
“Whatever PM does is for publicity, the way he goes to vote, or him meeting his mother are all part of an effort to show his humane side to people for the elections."
In the interview, Modi spoke about his childhood.
“I have played gillidanda in my village. But mostly, I would spend time swimming in the pond, I used to like that. I used to wash clothes of everyone in the family near the pond, and then swim."
He revealed a fondness for mangoes.
“I like eating mangoes and as a kid we used to pluck mangoes from trees after taking permission from the cultivator when we used to visit the village. But now I have to watch and think how much to eat."
On his mother, he said: “It is my mother who sends me money even today. Every time, I meet her, she keeps sawaa rupaya ( ₹1.25) in my hand. She does not expect anything from me."
Modi also referred to his workaholic ways.
“Every time I meet the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, he asks me if I have started sleeping more. Whenever he meets me, the first thing he asks me is if I have improved my sleeping habits and asks if I have started listening to him."
Shaswati Das contributed to this story.