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Why The Accidental Prime Minister matters to ‘chowkidar’

By Jyoti Malhotra

Around the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi was speaking at a rally in Himachal Pradesh Thursday, declaring that he would not give up on his war against black money and corruption, the trailer of the film on Modi’s predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh was released online. The Accidental Prime Minister is based on a book of the same name by Sanjaya Baru, media adviser to the former PM.

Certainly, there’s nothing accidental about the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tweeted in appreciation of the film, also at the same time:

Riveting tale of how a family held the country to ransom for 10 long years. Was Dr Singh just a regent who was holding on to the PM’s chair till the time heir was ready? Watch the official trailer of #TheAccidentalPrimeMinister, based on an insider’s account, releasing on 11 Jan!
9:31 PM – Dec 27, 2018
9,952 people are talking about this

The bugle for the 2019 general elections was blown when the BJP lost three states recently to the Congress. But Prime Minister Modi is certainly making it clear that he’s not giving up even though his satraps in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh fell behind the finishing line.

“Unko chowkidar se dar lagne laga hai. Choron ki neend haram ho gayi hai ki chowkidaar sonay ko taiyyar nahin hai. Chowkidar choron ko chhodega nahin,” the PM said in Himachal, referring to himself in the third person as the ‘chowkidar’ or ‘watchman’, a word he has been using since he came to power more than four years ago.

They have become afraid of the chowkidar. The robbers cannot sleep because they know that the chowkidar is not ready to give up his watch. They know that the chowkidar will not leave the thieves alone, the PM said.
Since timing is everything in politics, it is interesting that the film on Manmohan Singh is coming out now.

Even when Sanjaya Baru wrote the book in 2014, he was allegedly persuaded by his publisher to advance the publishing – Baru had earlier decided to bring out the book after the 2014 elections – and bring it out before the polls. Nobody is going to read it afterwards, the publisher had allegedly told Baru.

She was right. In Delhi, Baru’s book was sold out within three days of release. With its juicy details of how Manmohan Singh, within days of winning the general election in 2009, was told by then Congress president Sonia Gandhi that she would decide the portfolios, to how Singh stuck to his guns on the nuclear deal with the US, to how files were allegedly removed regularly from the PMO and taken to 10, Janpath—Sonia Gandhi’s home—for her to see, Baru’s book had become a must-read.

Many felt at the time that the book contributed to the public perception of a weak man who must give way to someone strong who could wipe out corruption and stand up and take care of India.

Narendra Modi pitched himself to that need and won a landslide, the likes of which had never been seen since Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi won the country in the wake of the assassination of his mother. Today, barely four months before Modi is tested again, the film is hitting the stands.

The BJP certainly hopes the movie will evoke some of the same anger the book did in 2014 and help push Modi over the finishing line in 2019. Question is, is a film on an old man, long gone into the sunset, enough? Even if the storyline is as much about Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka, one of whom is Modi’s leading opponent, will the PM be judged by his deeds in the last four years—the impact of demonetisation, a botched-up Goods and Services Tax (GST), agrarian distress, a combative foreign policy, cow politics—or by a caricature of a story that happened oh-so-long ago?

The film’s trailer starts with Akshaye Khanna, who plays Baru, saying that the Mahabharata is about two families, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, but in India today there is only one—the Gandhis.

Note how this refrain is an exact parallel of Modi’s speeches. He is constantly invoking the “naamdaar”, Rahul Gandhi, the good-for-nothing dynast who inherits the kingdom without deserving it, and comparing him with himself, the son of a ‘chaiwallah’, who is destined to take India to newer heights.

In Modi’s lexicon, he is the chowkidar who will catch the thieves, the top Congress leadership, and save the nation. That is why he won’t give up. That is why he cannot give up.

The film will be released on January 11. Certainly, people in the fishpond called Delhi will go to see it—if only because they know some of the characters in it. It will be a laugh to see how Sonia Gandhi’s role is essayed by the German-born actress Suzanne Bernert, or Arjun Mathur as Rahul and Aahana Kumra as Priyanka.
Of course there’s Anupam Kher of the BJP playing Manmohan Singh.

Watch out, though. Singh, often caricatured as the silent or “goonga” PM because he refused to speak out against all the alleged corruption that was allegedly rampant during his tenure, is now asking why Modi is keeping quiet: why the PM hasn’t held a single press conference during his tenure and subjected himself to being questioned by the press, or why his half-hearted remarks about lynching haven’t made the grade