Back in the day when the United States, deploying an arsenal of lies, fabrications and outright chicanery, was making its case for an attack on Iraq, talk show host Bill Maher was one of the loudest of the naysayers.

For his pains, his show was canceled; he was labeled anti-national; supporters of the war said that Maher hated America. His response was a standup show where he listed every stupid thing the Bush administration was doing, and the refrain was ‘I don’t hate my country – I am merely embarrassed by it.”

I now see what he meant.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh says that due to PM Modi’s efforts, the Ukraine war was paused for six hours to facilitate the evacuation of Indian students. He says this on January 11, 2024. He says this not in some gathering of Modi-worshippers but in England, where he is on an official visit. That claim, which when it first surfaced during the early days of Russia’s attack on Ukraine was all the rage on WhatsApp groups, had been debunked as far back as March 2022. The MEA, not one to shy away from Modi worship, had to officially say that there was no truth to — “absolutely inaccurate” were the words spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had used then. And yet, two years down the line, Rajnath Singh…

Speaking of the MEA, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who has been trying to shoehorn India as a party to the ongoing US-UK joint strike against Houthi pirates in the Red Sea, says that the UN’s relevance has been dwindling and now, “New Delhi is consulted in every major international issue. The world has come to us.” Apparently India’s “Covid diplomacy” was one reason — remember how we promised to vaccinate the world and then found we didn’t have enough even for our own people and had to renege on our promises? And the other reason, he says, is the “successful hosting” of the G-20 Summit — if that is sufficient reason for the world to flock to India, we must enjoy the limelight while it lasts because see, from 1 December 2023, the presidency of the G-20 had changed hands and it is now with Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who, in elections last year, had defeated Modi’s good friend Bolsonaro.

Still staying with the MEA, “little” Maldives has issued an ultimatum that all Indian troops based in the island nation need to get out by March 15. At the very same event in Nagpur where he made his “world has come to us” claim, Jaishankar in response to a question about the row with Maldives said “Politics is politics” and that he couldn’t guarantee that every country will support and agree with India every time. Oh?

Apropos, remember when the government decided that Modi’s style of diplomacy would be taught in Indian universities? Presumably the course will be titled How To Lose Friends and Make Enemies.

And then there is Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, who says that the Indian rupee has strengthened under the Modi government — a statement so bizarre even the Finance Minister must have blanched. (For the record, the rupee-dollar exchange rate is currently the highest ever in the history of our currency).

While on ministers and bizarre statements, there is the ever reliable Ashwini Vaishnav who, at the latest edition of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, spoke of Modi’s vision of joining Mumbai and Ahmedabad with a bullet train. The work is almost complete, he said. There is “full preparation” for the first train to run in 2026, he said. (This would be the same bullet train due for completion in August 2022?). The bullet train, Vaishnav said, would run between Surat and Bilimora in 2026.

Wait, what? Bilimora? Vaishnav is referring to the city in Navsari district, Gujarat? It is 66 km from Surat by road, 51 km by rail, and trains generally take under an hour to cover the distance. This is the bullet train Modi’s vision will provide, four years after deadline, always assuming the date doesn’t get pushed further back? (Once you get to Bilimora, note, Mumbai is still 218 km away). 

Seriously — I am embarrassed. In passing, note that all these statements came in the course of just seven days.

Then there is our media. The Adani-owned NDTV, for instance, has “live updates” on a special ritual Modi has begun ahead of the Ayodhya temple inauguration. And just yesterday, NDTV had ‘BREAKING NEWS’ splattered across its channel and on social media: to wit, Modi fed cows at his residence on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. The channel, whose viewership has been declining ever since Adani took over, thus gives an entirely new meaning to “breaking news”.

Ex-NDTV anchor Sreenivasan Jain, along with Mariyam Alavi and Scroll’s Supriya Sharma, have released a book called Love Jihad and Other Fictions, an attempt to examine and debunk some of the viral falsehoods roiling the nation. I got the book on Kindle, but am yet to read it).

NDTV though is amateur territory compared to ANI. The alleged news agency sent its reporters to the Maldives to ask foreign tourists to that country about their experiences in India. And to cover all bases, ANI also interviewed a tourist who had just returned from the Maldives and who says Indian islands are very economical. Try and imagine the editorial conference in which they came up with that idea. (And of course, the usual ‘blue tick’ influencers jumped in to promote this with the addendum that this marks a setback for Maldivian president Muizzu).

Did I mention that I am embarrassed?

Then again, sundry ministers and the media are small fry — for five-star face-palm moments you have to look to the experts. And none so expert as Prime Minister Modi, seen here purposefully carrying a bucket of water and a mop to a tree within the Shree Kalaram Mandir and redistributing some of that water around the base of the tree. He was, we are told, “cleaning the temple”. (Makes me wonder who cleaned the other parts visible in the video).

NDTV has more to say about the event, including the magical moment when priests sang the ‘Yudh Kand” section of the Ramayana in Marathi, and an AI translation tool ensured that Modi heard it all in Hindi. Cool. Must have taken ages, though — the Yudha Kandam of the Valmiki Ramayana is 128 chapters (sargams) long, beginning with Ram taking Hanuman into his arms to seal the anti-Ravana alliance, and ending with the Pattabhishekham, Ram’s coronation in Ayodhya.

And then there is BJP president JP Nadda, surrounded by cameras (one cameraman captured two others in the opening frame) cleaning some other temple (Again, the uncleaned parts look spotless). The payoff comes when Nadda spots some grit on the floor, picks it up between finger and thumb, and holds it out for some guy in a suit to come take it from him. (My wife, who saw this, says it reminds her of the guy who comes to clean our home. “I end up fetching and carrying for him,” she cribbed).

Amateur. Modiji would never have allowed so many people in the frame! 🙄

— Cow Momma (@Cow__Momma) January 14, 2024

Politics are 4 people acting & 20 others watching….

— Брат (@B5001001101) January 15, 2024

Seriously. I am embarrassed. How, and when, did we become this country?

Post Script:

Not to rain on anyone’s parade of follies, but around the same time Modi and Nadda and sundry others were cleaning spotless temples, the National Statistical Office released economic data for December 2023 — which, among other things, shows that retail inflation has surged to a four-month high, while the Index of Industrial Production has slipped to an eight-month low.

Elsewhere, the news was that India’s top four companies “report 50,000 fall in headcount over last year” — a coy way of saying half a lakh employees were laid off by just four companies alone.

In yet another sign of how our institutions are declining, the Bombay High Court has granted bail to a man of “tender age” (he is 26) accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. The sexual relationship was, the judge said, a case of love and not lust. Apparently the judge – a lady – hasn’t heard of statutory rape.

But yeah, Modi fed cows on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, which he couldn’t even pronounce correctly. Frankly, I am beyond embarrassed.

Prem Panicker is a journalist.

This article first appeared on the author’s blog

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