The entire BJP is celebrating PM Narendra Modi's birthday as "Seva Saptah". Since the beginning of his innings as the prime minister, Modi has made it clear to his party as well as the government — not to celebrate his birthday with much fanfare, but devote time in the service of the people. As a result, 'Sewa week' has become an annual feature now.
Even as Gujarat chief minister, he started his day visiting his mother Hiraba's residence in Gandhinagar. The birthday routine continued even when he was named BJP's PM candidate in 2013 when apart from blessings, he got a copy of Gita as a gift from his mother. On his last birthday too, PM Modi sought the blessings of his mother as he was in his home state. This year he is turning 70. But the year is likely to be different due to coronavirus pandemic.
With more than five decades of public service, there are many aspects of life that is hidden behind his aura and his tough administrator attitude. As a journalist, I have covered PM Modi's political journey from General Secretary organization to his 24/7 action-packed tenure as PM. He never shies away from taking tough decisions or breaking all norms to get the things going.
Two years ago, in an informal interaction with the Director level IAS officers, one officer asked the prime minister how was he able to take decisions so quickly. PM Modi instantly replied: If you don't have any agenda and clarity about things that are yet to come up, you can also make quick decisions. The officer, perhaps, got the clue to succeed in life. There are many other hidden facets of the prime minister's life.
How Modi tamed Bureaucracy
Modi always said that when he became the CM he was afraid to face the bureaucracy, or to be precise, IAS officers. But slowly he gained his composure. Started calling shots. He set the agenda to be pursued by the bureaucracy for the benefit of the common man. After taking oath as PM, he has different ideas. Here again he has broken the norms that continued since the British empire.
A bureaucracy that was called steel frame of British empire and that controlled the successive governments in independent India, was now coming out of age old shackles. PM called a meeting of all secretaries on the evening of December 31, when usually people prefer partying out. The message percolated down well. PM ensured that for top officials, it's not a 10am to 5pm job but they are public servants and have to work 24/7. The PRAGATI meetings, his interactions with all levels of IAS officers, new IAS recruits getting training as Assistant Secretaries in different ministries have proved that steel frame has broken and for now bureaucrats are also public servants and have to work round the clock.
Becoming Ministers in Modi’s cabinet doesn’t accord a superior status
In 2014, many new faces were sworn-in in PM Modi's cabinet. But things were never going to be the same again. Modi’s era was different from Vajpayee’s era. At one of the public functions, late Finance Minister Arun Jaitley narrated that as a minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet, he left ministry at 6pm, sipped coffee at India International Centre and reached home. But in PM Modi’s cabinet these are things of past. Gone are the days when ministers were out on foreign tours during summers. He said that Modi ensured that ministers' programme are set by the party and the government, even for the weekends. This led to increased visits of central ministers to north-eastern states.
The message was clear that it was due to party and ideology that they have got their place and now it’s time to pay back to the party and ideology both. Now it’s not the question of overworked ministers, but ministers serving round the clock.
He is always on time. Even if he has to address five rallies, once the timings are sent, he is always there on time. This he expects from his team as well. He makes his displeasure known if any of his colleagues or officials fails to remain punctual. Punctuality in India meant era of emergency when trains reached on time and officials reached offices on time. Now call it fear of PM Modi, the timing issues has gone down well into all grades of government employees.
Fond of using modern Gadgets
I still remember covering CM Narendra Modi's campaign trail way back in 2002 Gujarat assembly polls. While sitting beside him in a chopper on the way to Dang, I saw a small gadget in his hand on which he was using a pen to write and later using the same to talk to someone while flying in a chopper. For me, who started using a mobile phone a year ago, it was a pleasant surprise.
Even as General Secretary, Modi was among the firsts to use mobile phones and internet in the BJP office when Press releases were prepared on type writers. This passion continues even today. He is the most followed Leader on the social media and during the coronavirus period, he has advocated and promoted virtual meetings and offices. PM Modi now dreams of laying optical fibre in every village of the country, which proves that he wants to make India 'Aatmnirbhar' and 130 crore Indians tech savy. Of course, India is a big market, but PM Modi’s passion for latest gadgets is not new. At least, I am witness to it since the days of typewriters.
An unmatched Memory
He has travelled through-out the country as a pracharak and as a leader. After becoming the PM, he has travelled across the globe. One remarkable thing is that he never forgets the names or the incidents that happened long ago. He can recognise any party worker by his name and even recall the time when they had met. He can surprise anyone with his memory.
Everybody has seen and remembers PM Modi sitting at the feet of his mother seeking her blessings not only on his birthday but whenever he gets time to be in Gandhinagar. His old house in Vadnagar still reminds of the days of struggle for the family, but never allowed any of his family members to take the benefit of his position or clout. I visited his Vadnagar home during 2002 assembly polls and met his mother and family and friends there. His friends fondly remembered his wit and humour along with his memory.
On PM Modi's 70th birthday, all I can say is that system has changed and it has started functioning as well. Gone are the days of policy paralysis. But still, miles to go — a homework for which PM Modi has geared himself up.