Like Opera, Modi’s Wembley Show Enthralled its Audience

The spirit of volunteerism in landing up for events like the one at Wembley is noteworthy of the Modi pull factor.

5 min read
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Wembley stadium. (Photo: Reuters)

Gaurav bhai aka Gaurav Nilesh Ruparelia mans the reception after hours at an office complex in Canary Wharf. He reports for duty at 9 pm and is relieved the next morning at 9 am. The anti-cyclical direction of his travel to and from his home in West Ham always gets him a train seat.

Not so, on Friday, when I ran into him on the Jubilee Line in the opposite direction at an odd hour on the 50-minute journey to Wembley Park. I leant in, curious to comprehend what made him stay up close to 24 hours, take an unpaid leave of absence from work, and travel in a crowded train diagonally across London to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Gaurav bhai is not part of any diaspora group and no one solicited his presence. His grandfather was an associate of Sardar Patel. Gaurav was born in India, but came to London as a child. His father always had stories of his grandfather’s association with Sardar Patel. The logic gets slightly strained here, but Gaurav feels Modi embodies all the ideals represented by Sardar Patel.

I don’t give up and ask him to precisely outline the similarities. He aborts his analysis before he even begins when I try and accost him with facts –about the Sardar and about Modi – the good and the ugly. Gaurav weasels out of the conversation and says, “We should support the one man who can change India for the better, forget everything else.”

I am no one to judge of whether Gaurav is right or not in his assessment of the Sardar or Modi, but the spirit of volunteerism in landing up for perhaps the biggest community extravaganza is noteworthy of the Modi pull factor.

Smitten by Modi’s Charm

People walk towards Wembley stadium ahead of Modi’s speech. (Photo: Reuters)
People walk towards Wembley stadium ahead of Modi’s speech. (Photo: Reuters)

The sub-text for the Indian diaspora, who were born and bred in Britain, appeared to be an inadequate interface with the daily rigmarole of life in India. They do not understand arguments, motivated or otherwise centred on the sparse signs of change on the ground and perhaps justifiably so, because that does not concern them. They have bought into the virtual Modi platinum package.

This package brings them within touching distance of the amorphous concept of a strapping, flamboyant and apparently “powerful” India. And this is what the Modi show at Wembley stadium promised and delivered.

I had no interest in speaking to those who made it to the VIP list for the event, since they would have been there for the PM of the day. But Gaurav bhai would not have come for any other Indian Prime Minister. Nor would have Kalpesh bhai, Jignesh bhai, Lalji bhai, Mayank bhai and Sheetal ben. I could cover some distance of the Gujarati names lexicon through my interactions with people who thronged to Wembley Stadium to listen to Modi.

A man shows off his tickets on his way to Wembley Stadium. (Photo: Reuters)
A man shows off his tickets on his way to Wembley Stadium. (Photo: Reuters)

Equally, the VIP list did not sacrifice much and had everything to gain by association. In contrast, Kalpesh bhai lost a day’s wage, Jignesh bhai pulled in a sick leave and both were among the hoi polloi backbenchers who cheered every dialogue, clapped every time Modi paused for effect and would go back to their lives with not one dime of the £9 billion deals initiated by Modi.

Unlike, Gaurav, many who belong to this school of thought grew up in Gujarat and believe Modi delivered amazing things during his chief ministership. I asked, if things were so amazing, why admire them over a month-long vacation every few years and not move there?

Modi as the Salesman of Hope

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in UK. (Photo: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in UK. (Photo: PTI)

Again, the logic wavers, if not the afterglow of the Modi performance. For some it is the purchasing power of the pound. But as PM, if Modi has his way as he told us in the election campaign, wouldn’t that advantage be withered away soon, notwithstanding the exchange rate today?

For others, whilst the physical infrastructure changed in Gujarat under Modi, a social infrastructure which was tethered to the past, made life tough compared to Britain. I go for the jugular: wasn’t a decade sufficient to change the behaviour of the tehsildar, the SHO, the RTO clerk and others of this ilk who they felt made life difficult in India?

Obviously 60 years of Congress rule cannot be undone in 10 years. Clearly, the ineptitude of the Congress, amongst this segment, can be marshalled to ring fence Modi. And, Modi as the salesman of hope is indeed fortunate as any warranty breaches would always be claimed against the competitor brand, the Congress.

Supporters of PM Modi at 10 Downing Street. (Photo: Reuters)
Supporters of PM Modi at 10 Downing Street. (Photo: Reuters)

Ultimately, many non-VIP listers who made it to Wembley, were simple, hard-working people who could afford to give Modi a long rope, rather a very long rope to go about his schemes. For many of them 60 years of Congress rule was the reason why they remain in Britain.

They will allow Modi an unchallenged reign to bring long-term reform through saam, daam, dand or bhed unhesitatingly. And while, Modi is at this task, whose final outcome I dare say many of this group have mentally checked out of, periodic participation at Modi melas such as Wembley is like a spa treatment for their minds. Temporary endorphin release. And once you have left the stadium and gone back to your day job, it is a distant but pleasurable memory.

This is the view I get, on the surface, of the Modi show in Wembley. Ultimately, pugilists locked in combat in Muay Thai rings attract loud cheers while on, but not so much by way of post-match post-mortems. For chess contests it is the other way around. That in short was the attitude of the diaspora at the end of the Wembley show, no matter what brought them there, they all left the same way.

(The writer is a London-based lawyer.)

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