Narendra Modi's curious colonial hangover about speaking English

Why does the PM insist on struggling to articulate himself in English, butchering the teleprompter's cues, when the global audience loves India's multicultural identity? 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint session of the US Congress on 22 June 2023 in Washington DC (photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a joint session of the US Congress on 22 June 2023 in Washington DC (photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sujata Anandan

Given that there has been so much brouhaha over Narendra Modi calling for "investigating" the girl child, rather than "investing" in her, even as he was reading off a teleprompter, I wonder indeed why he should have chosen to address the US Congress in English rather than in Hindi — or even Gujarati.  

I am sure both the US Houses would have had ample facilities for translation and Modi could have been then making a statement highlighting India's multilingual culture instead of exhibiting his own colonial hangover, which is what the right-wing ecosystem currently accuses the English-speaking liberals in India of. 

Why is the BJP imposing Hindi on the entire nation when its own leader chooses to go pidgin abroad and gets us all laughed at? Perhaps he wanted to equal the addresses of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and even Rahul Gandhi in foreign lands? But then they are — all of them, including Indira Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh — of Oxbridge vintage and unlikely to stumble over "relationships" or the spelling of 's-t-r-e-a-n-h' while speaking in Hindi to the Chinese, as seems Modi's 'strength'.  

However, Hindi doesn't seem to be Modi's forte either — remember the 'Beti bachao, beti patao (save the daughter, flirt with the daughter)' gaffe, again so well aided by the teleprompter? But then we must not mock Modi because he has never made fun of other prime ministers, not even when the Pakistani prime minister referred to Dr Singh as a 'dehati aurat (rustic woman)' for expressing concern to the US about cross border terrorism. And he never poked fun at Rahul Gandhi, implying the latter was a 40- or 50-year-old dyslexic at a meeting with young students developing apps for handicapped people. 

No, of course not! Modi is our prime minister and we should defend him even as US  president Joe Biden and one of his predecessors, Barack Obama, play good cop/bad cop with him over atrocities against Muslim minorities in India. And, of course, there is really nothing wrong with one of his chief ministers then promptly referring to all Muslims in India as 'Hussein Obamas' who will be shortly dealt with appropriately even as Modi, in the first question he has ever answered at a press conference, has no specifics on how he proposes to safeguard India's minorities and merely pontificates on India being a great democracy!  

Amid reports now filtering in that the US has not quite agreed to transfer technology to India, we must nevertheless be all praise for Modi's demonstration of the corpse pose (shavasana) in New York, where yards from his yoga mat, the Chinese were blocking a resolution to declare a Pakistani militant as a global terrorist! Because, of course, China has not occupied our territory in Ladakh, Arunachal and elsewhere, is not now building a road through Garhwali territory which was never in dispute and what Modi gained on the swings in Gujarat with Chinese premier Xi Jinping has not been amply  lost on the roundabouts at Galwan, Doklam and elsewhere. 

Oh, yes! We were colonised by the British until 75 years ago, when of course the Congress threw them out of the country after years of a freedom struggle that taught us to speak English well to both the British and the Americans. So of course we gained a colonial mindset, whereas the RSS and the BJP's predecessors did not, for they never participated in the Freedom Struggle and never wished for the British to "Quit India". Indeed, its top leaders, including Guru Golwalkar, said on many occasions that they did not mind remaining  subjects of the British Crown for the rest of their lives. But they, of course, don't have a colonial mindset; those who threw the British out of the country, not wishing to serve under them for another moment, do.  

And so Modi addressed the US Congress in the language of our— and their  — colonial masters, and we must never point out that girls in this country are investigated even when they are raped and killed or they protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi against molestation by a BJP MP

So I guess we should now not protest against being colonised by China along our borders or against remaining under the thumb of America and pandering to America's needs by buying arms from them that will in no  way help us repulse China. And we must not point out that that very US  Congress where Modi was promising to 'investigate' the girl child was missing 75 senators and Congresspersons who were making a statement through their absence on the treatment of Muslim minorities in India, on the denial of basic  freedoms to its citizens, including the freedom of speech and expression, and on the generally dismal state of human rights in India under the Modi regime.  

And we must also not point out that most of those screaming "Modi, Modi!" in the US during his visit this time were flown in from India by a Gujarat-based travel agency. For, of course, Modi was sure that the entire Indian diaspora loved him so much that more than half of them would not be demonstrating outside the White House, even as his state dinner was in progress — a first for any Indian prime minister! 

To come back to what was said at the start,  I do agree with some of the Modi supporters that poking fun at someone's English in this day and age is rather elitist and, yes, rather abominable. And, yes, we must also not mock any one for lacking opportunities for a  well-rounded education, even if later they are compelled to forge a degree in a subject never taught anywhere in the world. I wouldn't really do it. But I have one or two questions for the ecosystem that relentlessly targets the Cambridge-educated development economist known as Rahul Gandhi for just being himself, constantly misrepresenting him to the people: Why do you do it? Is that not equally distasteful and repugnant? Is sauce for the goose, not sauce for the gander? 

I would be personally happy to ignore all of Modi's many shortcomings if only he would restore two things to India  — communal harmony and a constitutional democracy. But I doubt that will be forthcoming. So I won't hold my breath.  

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