Raghu Rai quietly releases a self-published work contrasting the personalities of Manmohan Singh and his successor Narendra Modi

The political climate of the last couple of years has been so compelling that Raghu Rai couldn’t remain unaffected by it. The news photographer that he was years ago before he turned his gaze to other aspects of life, lay dormant until Anna Hazare became the face of change.

Disappointed by scams and corruption, Rai had quit going to political parties’ events to shoot but on January 17, he decided to go for the All India Congress Committee session at Talkatora Gardens and it is there that his book, The Tale of Two: An Outgoing and An Incoming Prime Minister, was born.

Over the years, we have become used to seeing some really fine quality books by the iconic lensman. His last book on trees is a work of art in itself but this one belongs to a different league. A slim volume of 80 pages comprising 100 pictures conveys a sense of immediacy and the photographer’s need to react and record.

That it is a self-published work (AuthorsUpFront/Rs.1400) makes it even more interesting. “I was in a hurry. This has been produced in two-three weeks time. Other publishers would have taken six months to release it. The fact is that this work is born out of my journalistic need for immediacy,” says Rai who gives first 40 pages of the book to Manmohan Singh at the January 17 session and the following pages to Narendra Modi at the BJP session at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi two days later, accompanied by crisp captions.

“It was such a contrast. At the Congress session I started shooting at 9.30 a.m. and I was feeling bored as I felt it didn’t have the same energy and power as earlier. Post 1.30 Sonia Gandhi walked in followed by the then PM Manmohan Singh. He was still the PM but nobody walks with him. He comes and sits by himself. And he wears a nightmarish expression which remains unchanged throughout the session. When I came back and started to download these pictures, I realised that they were very telling pictures and I needed to do something about it.”

Rai arranged these pictures according to time to construct a linear narrative of the two events. “There are a lot of shots which the viewer will feel I am repeating and someone might even say that ‘why is this stupid photographer repeating shots’ but it is for a reason,” he says.

At the BJP meet, he recalls that it was Narendra Modi all the way. “I am of the belief that I listen to the nudges and whispers of the situation as they reveal themselves and capture the energy as it is. That’s what I have done here. I started with a lot of cynicism for Modi but what he has displayed so far is a different Modi. The book has the first speech he made in the Central Hall of the Parliament shortly after winning where I felt he spoke from his heart. We don’t want to listen to Modi say that my high command didn’t let me do this or that.”

He is now working on two books – a colour book on Kolkata and another one on Mahakumbh.

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