Opinions

View: Catch a PM in easy, comfy surroundings


One of the best ways to meet the prime minister of your country is to catch him or her when he or she is travelling abroad. They become more accessible, more genial, seem to put their best foot forward in a foreign land. For the ordinary person, it’s a potential mounted photograph for the living room wall.

This is especially true if you’re Indian and the citizen of a country the Indian PM – any Indian PM — is visiting. A momentary ‘Jai Hind!’ from the sidelines, or a quick handshake with the man or woman gives this encounter of the third kind a special frisson and flavour. Sharing a moment with a PM, for most of us in India, is understandably hard. It’s a big country, and the security apparatus is far more stringent here than when he or she stops for a brief while in, say, Austria.

In one episode of Derry Girls, the British sitcom revolving around a bunch of teenagers growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland during the final years of the Northern Ireland conflict in the mid-1990s, we have US president Bill Clinton visiting. The four girls and one boy decide that even though their (strict Catholic) school has ‘ridiculously’ not given a holiday despite such an ‘historic visit,’ they will simply to be there to witness the American First Family. With catching a glimpse of their own prime minister not a priority – which for Northern Ireland would have been the prime minister, John Major – the thrill of seeing an American president in their own backyard was in the ‘Bill or Bust’ category.

Some of the elders of Derry make it their mission to find the location of the US presidential base camp so as to catch up with Clinton far from the madding Derry crowds. They pick up a signal on their short-wave radio and hear what they think to be a message to a CIA operative being told to pick up ‘Bill’ from the village of Burt in neighbouring (Republic of) Ireland. They drive across the border – only to find out that ‘Burt’ is the name of a taxi driver the despatch company was messaging to pick up ‘Bill’, a local, from a pub.

On their part, the Derry youngsters also miss their tryst with destiny, and instead, get to watch Clinton making his November 30, 1995 ‘historic’ speech in Derry from outside a TV hire shop.

When prime ministers and presidents step out to ‘mingle’, it is usually during election campaigns, which has its usual logistical nightmares, especially for those who prefer to avoid the standard subcontinental melee and messy sweat of the masses. But a foreign visit finds the same statesman or stateswoman more accessible and in pleasanter outdoor surroundings. Also, an Indian prime ministerial visit outside India won’t shut half of the town down, making going back home after darshan far pleasanter.

The great advantage that Indians all over the world have is that, well, they’re all over the world. You may see, at most, a couple of regular Swedes to come out to have a dekko of the Swedish PM’s cavalcade down Rajpath. When the American president comes a visiting – even during hi-octane occasions like Trump’s ‘Vivekamunanand’ trip – it’ll be hard to find resident or visiting Americans in the crowds squealing with delight. The only ones you’ll see are those invited for official meet-and-greets or state functions.

Indian PMs are almost always welcomed overwhelmingly by the local Indian expatriate and émigré population. In newspaper photos, barring the foreign-looking local security chaps, it looks like it could well be anywhere in India, with the NRIs dressed up for off-season Diwali.

So here’s an idea. Perhaps travel companies could arrange package tours for high-spending resident Indians to join their NRI counterparts in cheering a visiting Indian PM from the footpaths, or the entrance of the hotel where he or she is putting up. If people can go for an SRK show in Toronto, why not a ‘PM Dekho’ package in, say, Edinburgh or Capetown? Of course, the tourists will need to be vetted and cleared. But a foreign trip with a jhalak of one’s PM could be well worth the paperwork. Especially when the chances of their pictures coming out back in mother country are significantly high.



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