There comes a point in time when rhetoric gives way to reality: for Narendra Modi that point might have been reached at Mathura when the fanfare over his “anniversary bash” proved as flat as champagne uncorked at a previous celebration. True that a post-event analysis would enable listing several positives in his tally, yet he failed to arouse the aspirations and hopes of a year ago. It was not merely a question of no big-bang announcements these could come on other occasions, several events are programmed but the rock-star appeared to have come on stage with a couple of broken strings on his guitar.

He refrained for asserting the dawn of achche din, and his falling back on declaring bure din for those who allegedly looted the country etc simply failed to click. Since TV channels admitted the “feed” they aired was provided by the party, it was significant that there was little attempt to project frenetic crowd response possibly because the only “heat” generated at a symbolically-rich venue (for the BJP at least) was the blazing sun. Even Modi&’s critics admit to his communication capabilities, and having a team of excellent event-managers, yet what was offered on Monday was no affair to remember, certainly not scripted in typical Modi fashion.

To suggest that the Prime Minister was on the defensive would be unfair, yet it would be fair to suspect he has taken a hit from the surge of criticism of his government being anti-farmer, favouring the corporate sector etc. The anniversary essay appeared primarily a bid to erase that impression, he spelt out the potential impact of several initiatives aimed at tackling poverty but the essentially rustic audience was not enthused.

No specific measures were disclosed to address the distress in the agriculture sector and he possibly felt that highlighting industrial initiatives would have been out of place. Not with the land-acquisition controversy hanging like a dark cloud over the farmlands. The hopes generated by who knows whom on the OROP scheme for military veterans did not fructify. And the Jaitley-line that this government&’s USP was that no scam has been reported is much too negative.

Even without drawing comparisons with the cock-a-hoop scenes at the AAP rally in the heart of the Capital it was simply not Modi&’s day. Having to share the spotlight is something with which he is not comfortable. In Gujarat there was little need to counter-punch, in New Delhi he will ever be under intense scrutiny. The mediocre performance on the ground of his ministerial squad just did not create the launch-pad from which his promises to take India sky-high could be re-asserted.