The PM Modi experience abroad
I had covered international summits before as well - the Sapporo G8 summit in 2008 when PM Dr Manmohan Singh went to Japan defying the Left to push ahead with the nuke deal - but the Brisbane G20 summit and Prime Minister Modi's five-day trip to Australia was certainly a different experience.
First, an Indian Prime Minister was traveling Down Under after a gap of 28 years. Predictably, the PM's calendar was packed: unveiling a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, pitching the "Make in India" campaign to Australian CEOs, meetings with Aussie politicians, addressing a joint session of the Australian Parliament, attending a reception by the Indian diaspora at a venue usually reserved for touring rockstars and finally, a banquet at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Now, if you consider that all these and a few more events were spread over two-and-a half days across four cities, it simply meant the PM was engaged from 8 am in the morning to 10 pm at night. For Indian journalists, the challenge, of course, was to make it on time from one event to another. True, as many of the events were "open only to the official media," it gave us some much-needed breathing space.
Chacha Nehru's birthday at Tech Campus:
Prime Minister Modi arrived at Brisbane a day before the G20 officially kicked off on November 15. But that didn't mean he would have any free time for himself.
Almost immediately, he got down to business. He visited the Queensland University of Technology, agreed to get selfies done with enthusiastic students, many of whom were from India. Later, the PM tweeted about spending the day at a campus on Pandit Nehru's birth anniversary.
The Cameron Exchange and a missed opportunity:
The same evening, British Prime Minister David Cameron was the first foreign leader PM Modi had a bilateral meeting with. I had gone to cover the meeting but learnt that the photo-op was open only to the "official" media. The British PM, however, may want to give a short sound bite after the two PMs had met, his media team informed. I wasn't willing to let it go.
"Ok guys, where do you want me to do this," asked Mr Cameron as he walked in after meeting his Indian counterpart. My colleague, Suresh Kumar, asked him to stand in a particular way and Mr Cameron sportingly obliged. In the next five minutes, Mr Cameron described his meeting as excellent and informed that he had invited Mr Modi to visit Britain.
So what did they discuss? Apart from economic issues, Mr Cameron stressed on security challenges: "Both agree that we have to challenge the narrative of extremism and violence."
As I walked out, I saw PM Modi engrossed in conversation with the National Security Advisor, Mr Ajit Doval about 50 feet away. There were no journalists around. Here was my chance to get an exclusive bite. Should I just walk up and ask him for a soundbite? The atmosphere in the room was formal, actually quite overwhelming! There was no way I could shout out, what we usually do to attract attention for a soundbite.
Shouldn't I just wait for the PM to look towards us? The moment he see us, I will pop the question: Sir, how was your meeting?
I am not sure if he noticed at all. Dressed in a smart pair of khakis and a jacket, he seemed immersed in conversation even as he started walking away. Before I could tip toe my way to the PM, he was already heading for his next engagement: a dinner meeting with Shinzo Abe.
I spent the rest of the night, regretting my "missed" opportunity to get a soundbite from the PM. That opportunity came less than 48 hours later. Mr Modi was unveiling the statute of the Mahatma at the Roma Park. The Indian media was there, in full force, to cover the event. While most others placed their cameras in front of the stage where the PM was scheduled to speak, we parked ourselves right in front of the Gandhi statue. There was one more TV crew waiting there and another joined in.
As soon as PM unveiled the statue and got a group photo clicked with the organizers, I shouted out: "Prime Minister sir! Would you... would you please speak to us?" I took my chance even though less than 5 minutes ago, he had spoken and shared his thoughts on his Australia visit. The Prime Minister sportingly obliged the camerapersons for the perfect frame, stood next to the statue, gave us a smile and left with a Namaste!
Breaking the security protocol:
"Modi, Modi, Modi!!" Wherever the PM went, his admirers and supporters would line up the venue, fill the air with chants and slogans, often prompting the PM to break his protocol, get out of his security ring and meet people, shake hands or even pose for a selfie!
In Sydney, right next to the Allphones Arena, a group of about 100 protesters were protesting against the PM. Their complaint: the BJP, during their earlier stint in power, didn't do much to ensure justice to the victims of 1984.But the protesters were clearly outnumbered before a 16,000-strong crowd who had gathered to listen to the PM.
At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australian PM Tony Abbot hosted a banquet in honor of Mr Modi, crowds had gathered by 3 in the afternoon. Could it be because of the cricketing legends? After all, how often do you see Sunil Gavaskar, Allan Border, Kapil Dev, Glen McGrath, Laxman, Steve Waugh or Dean Jones together?
"No, we have come to see our Prime Minister," said a couple from Bangalore, who were on a vacation in Australia and New Zealand. They were meant to fly out of New Zealand but changed their plan and came back to Australia. Could they not have seen him in India? "Yes but here, we hope to meet him as security is not so strict," said the wife.
By the time the banquet ended, it was 10pm. The weather had suddenly turned quite cold with a constant breeze. The number of people waiting to meet the PM was no more than 50, perhaps one-fifth of what we saw in the evening. But the moment he walked, there was frenzy once again!
Apart from his scheduled speeches, including the one at the Australian Parliament, Prime Minister Modi didn't give any soundbite or hold a press conference for the Indian journalists who followed him everywhere. But he kept his followers updated with his tweets, text of his speeches or video links to his programs. So is anyone really complaining?