Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a habit of springing surprises, but his unprecedented victory in the Lok Sabha elections did not surprise people as much as his speeches soon after.
Modi’s first speech at the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in Delhi and the second one in the Parliament outlined his blueprint of a New India, but political observers noticed the emergence of a New Modi instead – a leader who was more statesman and less saffron.
A few days later he reiterated his views on a visit to Guruvayur Temple in Kerala, saying: “Those who vote for us belong to us — those who didn’t vote also belong to us. For me, Kerala has the same importance as Varanasi. We are not here to play politics. We are in politics to enable India to achieve its right place in the world.”
That Modi chose to speak thus in a state that did not give the BJP a single seat is a welcome pronouncement and says a lot about Modi’s priorities at the moment.
This was in sharp contrast to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s speech in nearby Wayanad where he continued to attack Modi and reiterated his charge that the prime minister was a liar.
In the Parliament, Modi finally spoke about minorities, something his critics have repeatedly attacked him for.
Accusing opposition parties of using minorities for electoral gains, Modi said that the BJP and his allies should remove the sense of fear among them as everybody needs to be taken along for the country's prosperity.
"Unfortunately, minorities of this country have been kept in fear, used in elections. We have to end this cycle," Modi said, calling for winning the trust and confidence of minorities.
He accused the opposition parties of keeping the minorities confused and frightened, instead of working on the improvement of education and health among them.
Modi also said that poor people of this country have been cheated.
"We have worked for 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas', now we have to strive for 'Sabka Vishwas'.
Drawing from Mahatama Gandhi’s philosophy, Modi also appealed to the nation to rise above the caste class and religion which often come in the way of national unity.
“This result presents a new narrative before the country. It has demolished all possible barriers. Only two castes remain now: the poor and those who want to contribute to elimination of poverty to make a poverty-free Bharat. We have to support both — those who want come out of poverty and also those who want to help in its removal.”
The Prime Minister also directed the newly-elected parliamentarians to not fall in the trap of publicity, be cautious while talking to the media and shun the “VIP culture” plaguing most politicians.
“The country hates VIP culture. Why shouldn't we stand in line for an airport security check? There is nothing wrong in it,” Modi said.
He asked the MPs to restrain from asking questions like 'why am I being checked despite being a parliamentarian.'
"You should change yourselves by keeping the public in mind. You are a citizen of the country after all," he said, asking the MPs to stay away from VIP treatment as much as possible.
Modi, who was at his combative best against the opposition throughout his election campaign, impressed many by reaching out to the reduced opposition in the Lok Sabha, telling them, “The opposition need not bother about their numbers. I hope they speak actively and participate in the proceedings of the House with gusto … When we come to Parliament, we should forget paksh [treasury] and vipaksh [opposition]. We should think about issues with a nishpaksh [impartial] spirit and work in the larger interests of the nation.”
However, his remarks directed towards the Congress were less flattering. After getting elected the leader of the NDA and the BJP in the parliament, he said: “For the past 70 years, people who ruled sought votes in the name of ending poverty but poverty never ended. The poor were taken for a ride. Similarly, the minorities were also taken for a ride by the rulers by creating a false sense of fear in them for the sake of their votes. We have to work towards exposing this too”.
Despite his speeches, some are still sceptical about Modi’s new avatar, calling it showmanship instead of statesmanship. However, his words have resonated with a large number of people.
Modi now faces a tough task of reining in some reckless elements in his party who speak contrary to this and make instead make frightening remarks against minorities. For some time now Modi has been called the divider-in-chief, but only when he unifies the country will he truly be seen as a statesman in the league of Jawaharlal Nehru or Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
For now, Modi has been able to unify people from Colombo to Kabul and Nairobi to New York on International Yoga Day which falls on June 21 every year. The high-profile event sees politicians and the hoi polloi come out in large numbers to showcase their yoga postures and send a message of unity. It is because of Modi’s efforts that yoga has become globally recognised. Yoga’s ambassadorial role and its contribution has enhanced India's stature on the world stage.
It was Modi who suggested the date of June 21 for the celebration of yoga internationally in his United Nations address in 2014. The event is now observed in about 200 countries and plays an big role in bridging the world with our country’s old-age culture.
One can only hope that Modi bridges the divides that exist in the country with as much flexibility and consciousness that yoga demands.