Modi before NaMo: A recollection of a funny encounter in 1991

Murli Manohar Joshi, once a strongman of the Bharatiya Janata Party and now dismissed to the sidelines, chose the winter of 1991 to launch his Ekta Yatra from Kanyakumari down south, close on the heels of L K Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra. The Ekta Yatra (Unity Caravan) wound its way through the southern States before entering Andhra Pradesh, then a composite State.

Assigned to cover the yatra as a PTI correspondent, I followed its path closely but soon grew tired of the political rhetoric that was belted out at each and every gathering en route. The Daant Hindustani, toothpaste videshi (Teeth Indian, foreign toothpaste) routine did evoke some response from the people, but for journalists covering the yatra for five days, it was a bit tiring.

An interview with Joshi was the answer to my problem but I wanted sufficient time with the man on the van. After a long wait, I was granted a one-hour interview with him following the completion of his public meeting at Anakapalli near Visakhapatnam before the caravan rolled on to Odisha. The organisers asked me to board the ‘Rath’, the chariot, and there I was, face-to-face with a bearded man who wore a lean, mean and hungry look.

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The man staring down at me was Joshi’s major-domo throughout the yatra, Narendra Modi, 31 long years before he became Narendra Modi the Prime Minister. Modi of 91 gave me a hard look, and in a brisque voice that was almost to the point of being rude, said I should not ask too many questions. “Aap reporter log kuch bhi puchthe hain, mai interview record kar raha hoon,” he said. I said sure, no issues, but couldn’t stop asking him: “Aap kaun hai, bhai?” and for good measure, told him that he can’t dictate terms to a reporter on what he should ask or not.

This back and forth went on for a while before the man I was to interview got down the ladder in the van after completing his public address, Modi of 91 gave me a stern look as I settled into the comfortable chair opposite Joshi, ready with my writing pad and pen, but then I wanted something different, something that the BJP leader would say that was not part of his daily public speech routine.

It was then that I saw Modi of 91 handing down a huge glass wrapped in a towel to Joshi, from which he took a few sips before turning to me to answer my questions. After the initial ice-breaking questions on how the rath was doing and stuff, I asked him if the content in the glass was the ‘boost’ that was the secret of his energy. Promptly, Modi of 91 came down on me and said it was none of my business to know the content.

I too had had enough and told him bluntly that I had posed the question to Joshi and it was for him to decide. Seeing that Modi of 91 was seething in anger, Joshi stepped in and said: “Choddo bhai, he has asked me a question, I will handle it.” He then went on to tell me it contained some herbs and dry fruits that kept him going, as simple as that. I did write a small report about the energy-boosting concoction and that caught the attention of most newspapers who took it on page 1.

That was my first and last encounter with Modi of 91. I wonder if Narendra Modi has changed now, from being a rude person. Or has he? Don’t forget, Modi banished the man he served during the yatra after he emerged from the shadows of Modi of 91.

P S Jayaram is a seasoned journalist who among various publications has worked for the PTI, Deccan Chronicle and Telangana Today in senior positions.

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