Rajashree Birla is a philanthropist and a Director on the Board of all the major Aditya Birla Group of Companies. As Chairperson of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, Mrs. Birla oversees the Group’s social and welfare driven work. She has received many accolades and awards, the most notable one being Padma Bhushan in 2011 for her contribution to social work. Currently she lives in Mumbai.
To have been invited to celebrate the landmark birthday, the 70th, of our visionary and iconic Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modji, is indeed humbling. I have endeavoured to do so, through an expression of emotions experienced. The narratives, all of which I found inspirational, are fixated on various nuances of the PM’s persona. Some drawn from my son, Kumar Mangalam and some gleaned from my personal interactions at different points in time.
On that sunny Sunday morning of November, the 3rd 2019, in Bangkok, over a 1000 Aditya Birla Group leaders from all over the world had gathered for our Golden Jubilee celebrations of our presence in Thailand. The occasion was rendered even more momentous with Modiji as our Chief Guest. His presence created a heightened sense of surge that lifted everyone’s spirit even more.
Welcoming the PM, Kumar Mangalam said, and I quote him, “It has been my pleasure to have known Modiji for over 20 years. Let me share an anecdote that I believe defines him. Two months after he was sworn in as the PM, in his first term, I met him at his residence. It is quite expected for any new PM to revamp the house according to their taste – new furniture, artwork, upholstery etc. This time, however, it was different. Everything was the same. 7 Race Course Road had not been modified, or, as we would say in India, MODI-fied. I instinctively asked him how come nothing had changed? Pat came his reply- “Do you redo the compartment when you board a train? I am here as a passenger. On a journey with a purpose.” That one remark to me defines our Prime Minister -Unaffected by the trappings of power and undiluted in his focus on the greater good of India”. Unquote.
Yet another memorable incident that I recount was the inauguration of our ultra-modern Birla Century plant in Bharuch in 2009 by Shri Modiji, who then was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Greeting Modiji on stage, Shri Basant Kumarji Birla, my beloved father-in-law said that “I pray Modji who is our Chief Minister in Gujarat becomes the Prime Minister of India”. And that has rung true. In a private conversation, Pujya Kakoji as we called him, highlighted that how integrity is not his only virtue, but that Modiji is meticulous, incisive, and analytic in all his frames. That Modiji is an absolutely impressive enthusiast for whom India towers above everything and is 24×7 on his mind. The manner in which he scripted the future of our country was such that many began looking upon India as a great nation and as the float for the fulfilment of their economic dream market, attracting record foreign investments.
There has been a pause due to COVID-19. It has upended, disrupted, destroyed, uprooted lives and mangled dreams. Regardless, Modiji has ensured, supported admirably by governments across the nation that the pain is minimized and people comforted as much as possible. His lieutenants have been instructed to leave no stone unturned but march on and fight the pandemic.
Moving on to the development front, which resonates best with me, I salute Modiji. I salute him for putting in place path breaking initiatives, designed to make a quantum change in the lives of the underprivileged, through financial inclusion, skilling, education, healthcare and infrastructure. Modiji’s dream is an India free from poverty by 2030. Much in sync with Gandhiji’s thoughts. The Mahatma had said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence”.
To set the context of my next story, let me apprise you that my grandfather-in-law, Shri Ghanshyam Dasji Birla and Mahatma Gandhi shared a symbiotic bond. Kumar Mangalam, deeply influenced by the humane values that Gandhiji and my grandfather-in-law espoused, felt a compelling need to present these in a contemporary fashion to the youth and the children of today and to give them a sense of history. Most importantly, to take the Mahatma’s message of shanti: peace; of satya: truth; of ahimsa: nonviolence and ekta: the universality of mankind, in today’s day and age in a grippingly interesting way. So, way back in 2005, we set-up the ‘Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum’ in Delhi. And subsequently in London as well. Late last year, we had the privilege of having our Prime Minister conduct the bhoomi puja of the Gandhi Museum in Houston, USA. The PM reaffirmed the need of keeping the spirit of the Mahatma alive. The need to rediscover Gandhiji’s values of truth, of ahimsa, of peace and of brotherhood in today’s challenging times.
That Modiji is a man of emotions, is indisputable. His ‘Mann Ki Baat’ is one of my favourite programmes, which I have rarely missed. In the 73 years of India’s independence, he stands out for having entered our hearths and heart with his wise talks ranging from ‘triple talaq’ to ‘Swachh Bharat’ to marriageable age of girls, to emancipation of women through empowerment and more. His persuasion, passion and empathy ring loud and clear, leaving millions of charmed and convinced listeners.
My final story. In a recent chat show, I was fascinated to listen to Modiji’s takes on life. First, he said, only a deep sense of purpose can make life meaningful. After his retirement from active politics, Modiji affirmed that he would be engaged in some purposeful mission that is oriented towards the larger good of mankind. Second, he never shows his anger. He thinks that it does not help in anyway, is counterproductive and most often it puts a brake on the work at hand. I fully subscribe to this line of thinking. In my view anger is the darkness of the mind and it can blur your vision. That moments of quietude and reflection are integral. Third, Modiji emphasizes that children should be taught the value of hard work. It should be dinned in their heads that if they want to achieve anything, only perseverance makes it possible. He does not believe in Aladdin’s magic lamp as a recourse for attaining anything.
Modiji confessed that he looks upon life as one of duty and detachment, devoid of any attachment, transiting through different moments with faith, attentiveness and discipline.
I found it so akin to the karmayogi philosophy enshrined in the Bhagavad Gita. It was a gently stirring piece of great emotional intensity and it must have touched a chord in many hearts as it did in mine.
Respected Modiji, here’s wishing you many more years of glory in this journey of life.