It all started with a phone call.
The second last day of a wet July month brought much cheer. Someone very senior at the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) called to tell us that: (1) Prime Minister Narendra Modi has read your entire book (Modi Stole My Mask); (2) The PM is highly impressed that the authors (Amit Bagaria and Savio Rodrigues) were able to write a book based on research, data, and facts about the second wave of Covid19, and that too in such a short time; (3) The PM would love to meet the authors; (4) You will hear from us soon.
What we didn’t realize or understand is what “soon” meant.
Five days later (Wednesday, August 4), Savio was in a remote area of Ladakh where there was no phone connectivity, and Amit had fallen asleep at about 3:00 in the afternoon due to the effects of medication he was prescribed for a recent ailment. Before going to sleep, Amit sent a message to Savio telling him to call his wife in case a call came from the PMO and Amit’s phone was unreachable, but Savio didn’t get the message as he had no network coverage.
Meanwhile, the senior PMO officer (he has a Minister of State rank) was getting blowback from the Appointment Section. They wanted to know ‘who are these guys … crores of people want to meet ModiJi and these two guys are unreachable or not answering their phones.
When Amit woke up around noon on Thursday, he saw five missed calls from Savio and a message: “Amit call it’s urgent. PM meeting tomorrow. They have been trying to reach you.” Savio had flown from Ladakh to Delhi that morning.
That last sentence of Savio’s message was an understatement. When Amit checked, there were 12 missed calls, five SMS messages and two WhatsApp messages from 011 landline numbers or unknown mobile numbers. All in less than 22 hours. Of course Amit was embarrassed.
Anyway, within the next 40 minutes or so, after some overdue apologies, everything was sorted out. The ‘10-minute meeting’ was scheduled for 12:50 pm on Friday at Room No. 10 in the Parliament House. Amit was told by three different people that the time allotted was strictly 10 minutes. Lots of tens here!!!
Amit’s double-vaccination certificate and Savio’s RT-PCR report were mailed to the PMO Appointment Section. In a few hours, Amit too was on a flight to Delhi.
D-Day (Friday, August 6)
A suited-booted Savio and a full-sleeved formal shirt and trouser-wearing Amit (very different from his preferred attire of t-shirts and shorts/jeans) arrived at the reception building of the Parliament House exactly as the clock showed the noon hour. They were carrying a small brown paper bag with four books (three copies of Modi Stole My Mask and one copy of Amit’s earlier book Congress-Mukt Bharat).
After depositing their phones, once a security officer at the reception counter was informed about the brown paper bag, he radioed for a ‘technical team’. The team of three humans (two of them with some weird-looking devices) and a dog arrived within two minutes. They went through the contents of the bag. After that, Amit and Savio were issued an ‘entry pass’ which clearly mentioned the bag. After the reception security officer stamped the pass with a blue rubber stamp, the technical team put another red stamp on the pass, which meant that even the bag was cleared. Both had to then clear a second level of security, which was not much different than airport security. The entire process at the reception building was highly efficient (with friendly security personnel) and took no more than 15 minutes.
Thereafter, it was a 3-minute walk from the reception building to one of the gates of the Parliament House. It was Savio’s first visit to India’s temple of democracy. Amit had visited 42 years back as a 13-year-old (child?) with his father to watch the house proceedings on the invitation of a Rajya Sabha MP.
At the gate, there was a third metal detector. The ‘visitors’ were then shown to the sprawling office chamber of the senior PMO officer (the same person who had first called on July 30) in the basement, which also had a separate mini-PMO with at least 7-8 other officials that we could see. We were surprised that the Parliament House had offices in the basement.
The senior officer’s chamber had two TV screens on the wall facing him, one tuned to Lok Sabha TV, and the other to ABP News. The latter was screening the 51-year-old Congress party ‘youth leader’ doing yet more antics at Jantar Mantar, apparently in support of the farmer agitation. Agitating, isn’t it, when the main opposition leader supports an agitation against path-breaking reforms that will revolutionize the agriculture sector and make all of rural India richer.
The senior officer was extremely courteous and first inquired about Amit’s health condition. Once that was out of the way, he informed us that the PM has just tweeted that the “Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna” Award had been renamed as the “Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna”. For those who may not know, Army officer Major Dhyan Chand was a hockey player widely regarded as one of the greatest in the history of the sport. During his era, India won the field hockey event in seven out of eight Olympics from 1928 to 1964. Including the Olympics, he scored 570 goals in 185 international matches from 1926 to 1949.
The senior officer then wanted to know what we would discuss with the PM in the allotted 10 minutes, and we shared what was on our mind. He was OK with all the points we wanted to discuss with the PM.
At 12:50 pm, the officer got a call and told us the PM was running about 20 minutes late. He then walked us up to Room No. 11, which was sort of a lounge for people waiting to meet the PM. A current Union Minister was amongst the people waiting. There were two desks, which were manned by young and energetic officers who seemed to be managing the Appointments Section. This room also had two TV screens, one tuned to Lok Sabha TV, and the other to ABP News. Why ABP News and not any other channel? We guessed it was because it is one of the government’s sharpest critics? Smart!!!
The PM’s security team (SPG) checked our brown paper bag. The bag (books) passed the tests.
There was a minister and another group ahead of us, so by the time we got ushered in to Room No. 10, it was 1:22 pm. We were wondering whether we would still get the allotted 10 minutes, since the PM was already running 32 minutes late.
The room was not very grand. A large desk, three sofa-type visitor chairs, and some chairs behind those. ModiJi greeted us with his signature Namashkar, with folded hands.
As we were headed to the visitors chairs, the PM said in Hindi, “Wait, let us finish the photographs first. And you can take your masks off, as you have already told the whole world that Modi stole your masks.” He was smiling. We were surprised with his good sense of humour. After Amit and Savio’s pictures were taken with the PM, ModiJi said, “I want to take a picture with my friend from Goa.” He was gracious to pose for separate pictures with Savio and Amit.
Apart from gifting a copy of Modi Stole My Mask signed by both Amit and Savio, Amit also gave a signed copy of his earlier book Congress-Mukt Bharat to the PM, and he said he looked forward to reading Congress-Mukt Bharat.
After the photos were clicked by the official photographer, the PM asked us to take our seats. On our request, he autographed two copies of Modi Stole My Mask.
We started by asking him what he thought about the book Modi Stole My Mask. He responded that the book is backed by so much of research and data that is difficult for anyone to counter. He said every Indian should read the book. We obviously agreed.
Next, we discussed various issues, including the Leftist ecosystem’s misinformation campaigns surrounding the agriculture sector reforms (and consequent farmer agitation) and the Covid19 second wave, the need to build a communications ecosystem to counter the Leftist propaganda machine, China’s potential role in the leak of the Coronavirus, the post-poll violence in West Bengal, and other important issues of national importance.
Savio told the PM that he wanted to travel to China to investigate the potential Wuhan lab leak, and the PM shared his frank views on this.
To each of the issues raised by us as constructive feedback/criticism, the PM immediately responded by saying, “मैं आपसे सहमत हूँ जी” (I agree with you). All the discussions were completely free and frank. We were completely taken aback with this response—with his humility! After all, the popular propaganda is that Modi is a fascist who doesn’t listen to anyone.
Before ending the 25-minute meeting (yes, the 10 minutes had been extended by the PM despite a PA interrupting in between to remind him that several people were waiting to see him), we requested the PM for more such interactions in the future, and he readily agreed.
In summary, Amit and Savio conclude by saying, “MODI STOLE OUR HEARTS.”