Charcha with KT: When the Indian Prime Minister came across as a friend
The PM spoke in English to make us comfortable, then switched to Hindi. His voice was low, but clear.
His handshake was firm, just like his leadership style, but what I liked most about Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi was that he was a keen listener during our chat on Saturday. And he was jovial, almost cool - desi cool. He laughed, was cheerful and appeared pleased during the conversation.
I must admit I have been a nervous interviewer for all of my 20 plus years as a journalist. That may be because I often cannot take 'no' for an answer. I won't go into that now, but this interview was different.
Modern India's most powerful PM is also ushering a cultural shift in the politics of the country. These are interesting times in the country's and global politics and Modi is setting a scorching pace.
Personally, I have been a fan of the Indian PM for his work ethic, sharp focus, agenda for development and his vision for transformation in government. His government's fight against corruption appeals to me, an ordinary journalist with no extraordinary talent, but hung up about ideals.
His agenda to uplift the downtrodden is another factor that draws my attention to Modi 2.0. So, I wasn't just nervous about this meeting, I was intimidated. Why me, Lord? Why now, I asked myself.
I was up at 4am after being on calls the whole of Friday with the very friendly officials in the prime minister's office (PMO) and the Indian external affairs ministry. The PMO went out of its way to make this interview happen at short notice. I even WhatsApped his team questions when I thought of one. They were gracious to accommodating my requests. I thank them.
But the PM's stern look flashed before my weary eyes. This was serious stuff - my biggest interview. My palms were clammy when it dawned on me that the PM wanted to have a personal chat with me. He (the PM) suffers no fools, someone had once warned me. But the reception by the PM and his team caught me by surprise. Soon we were talking like friends. His team even allowed my colleague, Anjana Sankar, join in for the morning's charcha.
"I saw the interview you published about me. It looked nice," he said, referring to the exclusive interview Khaleej Times ran on Saturday. The premier looked relaxed in his suite at the Emirates Palace Hotel. It felt like home in the UAE, and he said he liked coming here often. There was something brotherly about this country, about the leadership and the way it treated his compatriots, he said.
The PM spoke in English to make us comfortable, then switched to Hindi. His voice was low, but clear. I knew who was in control. He asked me for how long I had been working in the UAE and where I was from. Satisfied with my replies, he turned to Anjana and listened intently to snippets from her life as an Indian expat. "He takes real interest in the people he meets," she told me later.
I complimented him on his fitness levels, his energy and drive to make his vision known to the world. "You climb up the steps to the aircraft so quickly," I said. "That's me. I am keen to get things done. I meditate, I deliver," he replied with a smile.
Who am I to question his commitment?
Anjana then asked him a relevant question on voting rights for Indian expats. "It will happen soon. Technology will speed things up and make it easier for NRIs," he said. I knew he meant every word of it. He has that effect on people.
It was time to thank him and bid goodbye. He didn't seem to be in a hurry, but from the corner of my eye I noticed a senior member of his team nodding at me to say our time was up.
I wanted to tell PM Modi that we should continue this conversation later, but held my tongue as we left his suite.
He stood there smiling, content. And boy! Were we happy!
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