This is a work of fiction. Although it may appear closer to reality than fiction.
Before US President Joe Biden left Nayi Dilli at the end of the G20 summit, a select group of leaders found themselves assembled informally, at Bharat’s suggestion. An odd, indeed most unusual, request was made to them. They were invited to evaluate Pradhan Mantri Modi’s leadership qualities. The supreme host, becomingly, absented himself from the gathering so that his guests could speak their mind openly and uninhibitedly.
Brazil’s Lula was in the chair. There was an embarrassed silence at the Indian host’s odd request. Once the leaders were assured that their conversation would remain secret, they reluctantly went about humouring their host. A summary of this private conclave, prepared for the Leader, has now become available.
Foreign Minister Lavrov (Russia): We regard Prime Minister Modi as the only political leader of 21st century who is bothy physically and metaphysically inclined. Why do we say this? Because he is the only man in recent history who resembles the greatest political philosopher and mystic of all time, Grigori Rasputin, in both appearance and adeptness at intrigue. So complete is the imitation that he is the only modern leader who has shown the courage to sport a long beard in office.
In our country, Lenin’s goatee was an apology for a beard. Stalin only grew a moustache while neither Khrushchev nor Brezhnev, not to speak of Chernenko, Andropov and Gorbachov, could claim to possess any kind of stubble. My own leader, President Putin, of course, is clean shaven but that is because he is beyond such trivial hirsutes.
And, I do wish to remind my Indian friends that for many years, Russia did not think India had acquired genuine freedom because neither Gandhi nor Nehru, nor Bose, nor Patel, nor Ambedkar cared to grow a beard. It takes extraordinary courage and extraordinary depth of character for a man in public life to sport a beard. Of course, our good friend Manmohan Singh also had a beard, but that was a religious obligation, not a conscious choice. Though he has trimmed it now, only Prime Minister Modi has chosen to make a statement with his beard.
So, ladies and gentlemen, do join me in saluting Modi, a man with courage to grow a beard. None of us knows what a vishwaguru looks like, but as someone trained in Marxism, I dare say it is no dialectical mystery. All gurus must have a beard. Only Modi has a beard. QED.
President Biden (United States): Gentlemen, I have been around for a very, very long time and I have come across leaders of all shades and hues in almost every part of the world. I have rarely met a man so wonderfully focused on selling himself as Narendra Modi. In my country, especially in Middle America, the highest praise is reserved for the second-hand car salesman. This job requires cunning, sleight of hand and a glib tongue since you are often selling shoddy goods to someone who does not even need it.
I believe Prime Minister Modi is the World’s Greatest Second-hand Car Salesman – of the Global South, of course. I hesitate to anoint him the greatest salesman in the world because he faces very tough competition from my predecessor in the White House.
Prime Minister Sunak (UK): If pressed to choose a salutation, I shall call him the greatest transactional man. Britain has conventionally been known as a nation of traders, and we do know how to strike a bargain; we know how to gauge the customer’s needs and ego and to adjust our sales pitch accordingly. But Prime Minister Modi is the supreme personification of all these qualities. I would have liked to call him the greatest transactional leader of all times but my team tells me that he is not without chinks in his armour – that it is easy to sell him anything as long we take care to satisfy his ego. We do not judge. We just do business.
Premier Li Qiang (China): The Chinese side is very fond of Prime Minister Modi because he is, if you pardon my bluntness, a man of straw. After his first encounter with Modi in Ahmedabad, Comrade Xi told the politburo: “I had expected to meet a man of steel, but he turned out to be a man of rusted iron.” After the meeting in Bali, Comrade Xi told us: “The rusted iron man is becoming brittle; all too ready to crumble. What we need to do is 再推一下 or – to use a Hindi phrase Mr Modi may know, ek dhakka aur do (give it another push). I am sorry if my Indian hosts feel disappointed and I do apologise most profusely; but Comrade Xi has always impressed upon Chinese diplomats that it is better to be frank than to be deceitful.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (Germany): In this private gathering, I have no hesitation in stating that the man would have been very well understood and admired by people in our country – but 80 years ago. Because we have good reason to believe that he is only leader in the world whose nationalism mirrors the ideas of a certain book that, frankly, most Germans today would throw in the trash. What is more, he remains unfazed when he is accused of shielding bigots and now is planning for where India will be after 1,000 years. Of course, the last leader who tried to do that with his country proved to be a disaster. Let me say no more.
President Macron (France): We in the French establishment take considerable pride in our underhandedness. We know how to hustle. We can cut a deal with any leader on his terms yet laugh our way to the bank. I was particularly struck by Modi’s street smartness; imagine, declaring the adoption of the G20 joint statement even before the rest of us had a chance to formally say so. That is a sort of trick one practices in party platforms but it required a special deviousness to do this at an international gathering. The art of presenting a fait accompli is not just a European trick. Monsieur Modi had mastered it. He is a master of simulacra and simulation, to borrow the the title of Baudrillard’s classic book.
President Lula (Brazil): I am too much of a man of the masses to be taken in by Dear Leaders, wherever they may be. I have suffered and endured indignities and imprisonment. But I see no harm in giving in to the Indian delegation’s request that I exercise my discretion as the next chair to declare that the G20 in New Delhi was the greatest show ever. No country can possibly hope to put up a tent like PM Modi did. We hope to host the 2024 summit with a much, much smaller budget since we have other pressing priorities. I believe I am not being very original when I say Modi is the greatest event manager in the world today, o melhor empresário!
Thank you, gentlemen. I thank our absent hosts for arranging this free and frank exchange of views.
Atmanirbhar irregularly contributes a column, From the Vishwavguru Archives, and believes that ridicule and humour are central to freedom to speech and expression.