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Aayush Soni
Media Minutes

Aayush Soni is a journalist based in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter at @aayushsoni.

The ‘inauguration ceremony’

Narendra Modi

ver since he took charge as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi's style and functioning has been the subject of much discussion. Much airtime and newsprint has been devoted to the fact that SAARC leaders were invited to his swearing-in ceremony, that his cabinet will be a truncated one and how, within minutes of taking oath, Modi's team changed the Prime Minister's official website. All of these developments were put under the illuminating umbrella of "Modi's inauguration". One would've thought that references to the American presidency would be restricted to looking for "India's Obama", but clearly we haven't had enough of it. So instead of the sedate "swearing-in ceremony" reserved his predecessors, Modi's ascent to South Block was dubbed as an "inauguration".

Except that it wasn't one. In the United States, the inauguration is a much more public and less suffocating affair than it was in India. Scores of people, regardless or class, race, ethnicity, religion and nationality line Washington DC's streets in the freezing winter to cheer and celebrate as their President takes the oath of office on Capitol Hill. In contrast, for Modi's "inauguration", all roads in and around Rashtrapati Bhavan were off limits to the general public. Government offices were asked to close by 1PM and section 144, a rule that essentially empowers the State to not allow any public gatherings, was imposed in the New Delhi area. In short, all the 6000 security men, women and their bosses, ensured that only about 3000 carefully chosen Indian and international elites had the privilege of attending Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony. So while Nawaz Sharif, Mahinda Rajapakse and Hamid Karzai, who don't even have a vote in the country, get front row seats to the Prime Minister of India assuming office, ordinary Indians can't even stand at the gate of Rashtrapati Bhavan to get a glimpse of the ceremony. The message was clear: Even if his rise symbolises the shattering of an elitist glass, the Indian State will use all the might at its disposal to distance its citizens from their democratically chosen leader assuming office. What should have been the most public celebration of the Indian state's most important event was, instead, held hostage to a colonial hangover that refuses to wither away. Just because some heads of state, movie stars, journalists, judges, politicians and ex-cricketers get invited, the basic ceremony doesn't change. An "inauguration" is an inclusive event which, our media, in attempt to appropriate something American, seems to have forgotten.

A change of guard

Among the most notable absentees at Modi's swearing-in ceremony on Monday was Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN and his wife Sagarika Ghose. It is now a well-documented fact that Network18, the media conglomerate that his news channel is a part of, is now owned by Reliance Industries. Yet, instead of sweating it out at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Sardesai was ensconced in his air-conditioned Noida studio, covering the ceremony live on-air. On the other hand, his former colleagues Prannoy Roy and Vikram Chandra were surprising invitees considering that, in the past, Modi has been at the receiving end of sharp and constant criticism from NDTV. Another invitee to the event was Adam Roberts, the South Asia bureau chief of The Economist magazine, which famously refused to endorse Modi for the top job. Ghose's recent utterances over not being allowed to speak freely might have ensured that both she and her husband were left out of the guest list. Or perhaps Rashtrapati Bhavan thought that the presence of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, an unabashed fan of Modi, his wife Nita and their sons Anant and Akash more than made up for the Sardesais being excluded.

 
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