By Counter Point
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may just be channelling his inner Shakespeare. If you look closely enough, similarities emerge despite the obvious differences.
From the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi roared on August 15, “We can take tough decisions as interests of the nation are supreme for us.”
“For I loved not Caesar less, but Rome more,” said another nationalist, Brutus, in a 16th century play Julius Caesar. Brutus murdered Caesar for the fear that he may become a tyrant. It was a decision he took for Rome.
(Antony stirring up the crowd)
The tough decisions Modi referred to include demonetisation and GST, two of NDA’s most contentious policies. The former even resulted in the death of a number of people; its aftershocks continue to be felt, even today.
Comparing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Shakespeare may sound like an absurd comparison to many, but if you are a student of English Literature, it becomes evident that Modi selectively uses Shakespearean techniques in his drama-dripping speeches.
Like Shakespeare, Modi plays on stereotypes, humour and sentiment in his speeches. Hyperbole is Modi’s middle name, and exaggeration his favorite weapon.
Intimately breaking barriers
A telling sign is Modi’s consistent use of “mitron”. Marc Antony’s famous speech after Caesar’s murder begins in the same fashion – “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears”. Antony leads Rome into civil war with a few references to those “honourable men” who murdered Caesar. His assertion that Brutus, and not he, is the orator brings his audience closer to him. He is one of them, after all.
Modi’s “mitron” message has a similar ring to it. “Mitron” is his key to unlocking people’s hearts. His “mitron” image is the counter narrative to elitist Congress’ boarding school going, Oxbridge graduating clique. It helps that the opposition barely refrains from referring to him as a “chaiwala” and “neech”.
Like Antony, the barrier between the stage and the audience is broken by Modi as well.). It is no surprise then that people throng in thousands, and cheer in decibels too loud for dogs, to hear him speak.
Both, Antony and Modi, engender an intimacy, establishing a bond that is rarely seen in a one way conversation between someone speaking from the pulpit and those listening on the ground.
Tea-maker, promise breaker
Iago, Shakespeare’s most famous antagonist, knows that the trick to making good promises, is knowing when to break them. Modi knows that too.
Iago in Othello plays a smart game. He convinces Othello, Desdemona and Cassio that he is tirelessly working to help them get rid of their problems. “This advice is free I give and honest, Probal to thinking and indeed the course”.
Modi also swore to work relentlessly to create jobs, achieve a clean India (Swachch Bharat) and digitally empower the country in his very first Independence Day speech. “My dear countrymen, believe in my words, I do assure you. Shun all the sins committed so far, give up that way, follow the way of goodwill and brotherhood, and let`s resolve to take the country forward. I believe we can do that.”, he said in an evocative speech.
Some sympathy, some scorn
Narendra Modi has a mantra. Instead of condemning a blatant crime against minorities, he asks for sympathy for himself instead. His infamous, alleged remark about the Godhra riots comparing deaths of numerous Muslims to puppies hits at the heart of the issue.
Even as the number of lynchings across the country reached an unprecedented level, Modi appealed to the people, “If you want to attack, attack me, not Dalits. If you want to shoot, shoot me”.
Similarly, Shylock, the antagonist from Merchant of Venice, cleverly redirects dramatic focus to himself after he is cornered.
“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions… If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Shylock states in an evocative speech drawing attention to the way Jews were treated in 16thcentury England. Shylock, who has signed a bond for a pound of flesh if his money is not returned, is asking for sympathy from the reader.
A victim for all seasons
After being shunned by the two daughters who King Lear bequeathed his estates to, Lear breaks downs. His evocative words, “I am a man more sinned against than sinning,” are immortalised in Narendra Modi. After being referred to as of a “neech jaati” Narendra Modi nearly cried, “I cannot deny I was born into a ‘neechi jaati‘ (backward caste) but is that a crime?”
Modi turns into a victim in a span of seconds as not only the opposition, but also those with vested interests rally against the man who “was not born to sit on the chair of a high office”. Nearly two weeks after demonetisation, public unrest was mounting. Narendra Modi said “I know what kind of powers I have taken on. I am aware they will not let me live. Let them do what they want … Brothers and sisters give me 50 days… If I fail, punish me then.”
Lear’s famous words after second daughter Reagan turns him away come to mind – “Here I stand your slave, a poor, infirm, weak and despised old man”. Lear is the aging King who has ceded his reign to his daughters; he has nothing left but pure emotion in his defence. In the run up to 2019, we can expect the King Lear avatar of Modi to dominate the stage.
What Modi should be reading
The Bard is most famous for concealing the best of messages, social satire and the need for reform, in humorous commentaries that mock the status quo. There are invaluable lessons concealed in his comic interludes, like the one Lear’s Fool ventures on after Lear drafts his will –
“Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest,
Leave thy drink and keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens to a score”.
Perhaps if Modi read more of these, we could expect a statesman who cares more about good governance and less about popularity. If not dear prime minister, remember the timeless warning, “Beware, the ides of March.” Or May, in your case.