By Sushil Kutty
Time was when ‘Time’ magazine used to be ubiquitous in the streets and newsstands of India’s major metros. Those of us of a certain vintage will remember. Then, with the advent of the online, ‘Time’ disappeared. Today, all we have is ‘Time 100’ – the annual choice of the “100 most influential people on the planet”.
This year, three Indians figure in the list— Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee and Adar Poonawala. Two politicians and a vaccine-maker. Poonawala is there courtesy Covid-19 and because he is a vaccine Czar. Modi makes an appearance because he continues to challenge the liberal world. And Mamata Banerjee, because she’s the best hope to rid India and the world of the presence of Modi at India’s helm!
This year’s ‘Time 100’ comes even as India is abuzz with talk of impending assembly elections in 2022— Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, all in 2022. Of these Uttar Pradesh’s will be the most crucial, with very far-reaching effects. A BJP defeat will spell doom for Narendra Modi. West Bengal election is done and dusted with, and Mamata Banerjee stole a march over Narendra Modi.
Now, Mamata is banking on the West Bengal victory to finish the hegemony of Modi in the 2024 general elections. Ahead of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and NCP supremo Shard Pawar. The Trinamool Congress is conducting an exercise to popularize Mamata pan-India. She’s on billboards in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In fact, in south states, the fact that she figured in ‘Time 100’ will be remembered and spoken about.
Not so much in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, where people will not be prone to Google search ‘Time 100, 2021’. Of course, in Gujarat and West Bengal, home state of Modi and Banerjee, respectively, the BJP and the Trinamool will flaunt ‘Time 100’ to garner maximum mileage for Modi and Mamata respectively. Gujarat will go to polls in end-2022, while West Bengal will be gearing up for 2024.
The global list of ‘100 most influential people of 2021’, unveiled on September 16, includes the names of US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese President Xi Jinping, former US President Donald Trump, Fox TV host Tucker Carlson and the co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, whose influence has been curtailed somewhat in recent days.
Modi’s eulogy for ‘Time 100’ was written by CNN anchor Fareed Zakariya, who does not subscribe to Modi’s worldview. He writes that Modi has pushed India away from secularism and toward Hindu nationalism… “Two international think tanks concluded this year that under his watch, India has veered away from democracy, toward electoral autocracy.”
Zakariya did not tell anything that Indians haven’t already heard of. India’s opposition parties have been drumming home the same message for the last seven years, ever since 2014 when Modi rose to occupy the PM’s chair. But none of that affected one whit bit the opinions of “Sanghi-Indians” regarding Modi.
Whether ‘Time 100, 2021’ will make a difference will be seen only if Zakariya’s reading of Modi is taken to every home and forum, juxtaposing Narendra Modi standing against Mamata Banerjee’s. Mamata’s readout for ‘Time 100’ has been written by journalist Barkha Dutt, and both Zakariya and Dutt wear the same colour sunglasses that Narendra Modi shuns.
“On May 2, she stood like a fortress against the expansionist ambition of Narendra Modi, a seemingly invincible Prime Minister…” writes Barkha Dutt. “Of Banerjee, it is said, she doesn’t lead her party, the Trinamool Congress—she is the party. The street-fighter spirit and self-made life in a patriarchal culture set her apart. If any coalition of forces were to come together to counter Modi nationally, Mamata is almost certain to be the pivot.”
That’s more praise for Mamata Banerjee in one para than Narendra Modi would garner in 101 pages of nostalgia. But people should get to read it. The question is, can Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool take Dutt’s eulogy to Mamata to the people of India; drum home the message that if anybody can beat Modi in 2024, it’s Mamata Banerjee, Mamata alone.
The ‘Time 100’ list is seen as most trustworthy, and a great honour to be in. But time was when ‘Time magazine’ was seen and read. Today it’s hard to come by. And with passing time, even the euphoria of appearing on ‘Time 100’ is ephemeral. A couple of hours of jumping up and down and then a hangover that’s gone with the wind! Whether the opposition parties of India will be able to use it to undermine Narendra Modi’s cult status is hard to tell. (IPA Service)