When American President called Indian Prime Minister as ‘Father of India’, little did he know that he would be stirring up a hornet’s nest. The Indian opposition and some pseudo intellectuals have put two and two together to come up with twenty-two instead of four. This has led to the question if Mr. Modi is trying to equate himself with Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation? Those up in arms reiterate that there is only one Father of the Nation in India and how dare anyone compare Mr. Modi with him. One can take a safe bet that Mr. Trump had no intention of doing either. For him it was more of using it as an English language metaphor that implied Mr. Modi being a fatherly figure.
There is a perceptible difference between ‘Father of the Nation’ and being a ‘fatherly figure’. The former can only be one but the latter can be many. ‘Father of the Nation’ is more about someone who was responsible for the birth of an independent India after centuries of Muslim and British rule while fatherly figure is someone who is sincerely concerned about improving the lot of Indian masses by addressing some of their basic needs. Independence was a onetime event and therefore there can be only one ‘Father of the Nation’. But improving the lot of the masses is a continual process. From time to time individuals will emerge who will be credited with making a positive difference in the lives of the masses that may qualify them to be called as fatherly figures.
If one scans the history of India in last seven decades, possibly there are a few more who can be referred to as fatherly figures. Jayaprakash Narayan gave voice to millions of Indians through his agitations against misrule and corruption. Baba Saheb Ambedkar, the author of our constitution, showed his sincere concern for the poor that included Dalits and other backward classes by including suitable provisions in the constitution for their upliftment. Today perhaps millions have benefitted from the same in varying degrees. What about Sardar Patel who integrated hundreds of princely states into the Indian union? If he had not done that India would have been like a family with all siblings fighting each other all the time. Is there any doubt that they were like fathers to millions of people within the country? Mother Teresa is invariably referred to as a motherly figure because of the work she did for the poor. Suffice to say that all these greats had one motive behind whatever they did. It was to make India a better place to live for all Indians just like a father or a mother who wishes well for his or her family at all times.
Does Mr. Modi qualify to be part of this list? One will have to be a hardcore sceptic to say that he does not. He has shown enough concern about some basic needs of the masses that would go a long way in ensuring a better life for the poorest among the poor. He is the first leader since independence who has openly spoken about making India clean, removing open defecation, providing clean cooking fuel, ensuring electrical power in every home and ensuring financial inclusion for all. The world has acknowledged his crusade in this regard and the success that has been achieved in just a matter of few years to make life better for millions. Is this not in line with what a normal father does at home for his family? The only difference in this case is that the home is whole of India and the family comprises of all Indians. Above all he has also brought Jammu & Kashmir, the problem child for over seven decades, home within the folds of the family.
But then Indian opposition, some intellectuals and hard-core sceptics neither want to see Mr. Modi succeed nor can they tolerate any praise that may come his way. They forget that any success of Mr. Modi is success for the nation and any praise for him is actually praise for the country. They cannot digest the fact that today lip service is passé and instead the government is bent upon turning promises made to the masses into realities. May be these critics feel very uncomfortable as they stand exposed in front of the nation every time Mr. Modi succeeds.
Many Modi bashers have come up with a bizarre argument that because of Mr. Trump’s unpredictability and credibility issues, it is no big deal if he praises Mr. Modi or India. But first things first. He is the President of the oldest democracy in the world and perhaps the most powerful nation too. These are axiomatic truths. Any assumptions that his perceived unpredictability and credibility translate into his being a lesser world leader are fraught with danger. It is unfathomable that a matured democracy like America would elect a frivolous President. His approach to international diplomacy may be different and not subtle but to assume that he does not understand the importance of diplomacy would be fallacious. So, what he says or does as President of America has to carry a lot of weight.
Finally, there is no compulsion on any Indian to accept Mr. Modi as a fatherly figure just because Mr. Trump has said it. The nation gives individuals the liberty to even disown their biological fathers. There is a way out for those who do not want to see Mr. Modi as a father or fatherly figure. Maybe they can just call him ‘Uncle Modi’. In India it is very common for children to call their father’s friends and neighbours as uncles. After-all Mr. Modi too is just one such neighbour living at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg in New Delhi.