Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been assailed by the Congress for remaining mum on the Kathua and Unnao rape cases that have shocked the nation, chose the global stage on Wednesday to counter the charge, saying such incidents should not be politicised while acknowledging that crimes against women were worrying. Addressing the Indian diaspora in London at a mega event titled “Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath”, Modi, in a veiled dig at the Congress, also asserted that one should not compare the number of rape incidents between governments as it was a sensitive and emotive issue.
“Crime against women worrying. A rape is a rape. It should not be politicised,” Modi said at the event. “But can we compare the number of rapes in different governments? We cannot say there were this many rapes in our government and that many of yours. There cannot be a worse way to deal with this issue,” he said. Calling it the evil of not just the individual but also of the society, the PM said people need to teach their sons to treat girls with respect. He said one should remember that the one “committing the sin” is someone’s son.
“That’s why I presented this issue from the Red Fort in a new way. I had said that if a daughter comes late, parents ask where had she gone and why. Whom did she meet? Everyone asks their daughters, but you should also ask your sons where had they been,” Modi said. Earlier in the day, hundreds of protesters greeted the PM when he arrived in London from Sweden, demonstrating over a rising tide of sexual violence at home. Holding placards reading “Modi go home” and “we stand against Modi’s agenda of hate and greed,” protesters gathered outside Downing Street and parliament as Modi arrived for talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
However, the PM’s tone and tenor changed when he was asked about the surgical strikes that India undertook on September 29, 2016 post the militant attack in Uri camp. Sending a message to Pakistan that India would never accept terrorism, Modi, in an authoritative tone, said the country knew how to teach a lesson to those who ran the industry of exporting terror and kill Indians. “We believe in peace. But we will not tolerate those who like to export terror. We will give back a befitting answer and in the language they understand. Terrorism will never be accepted. India knows how to teach a lesson to those who run industry of exporting terror and kill Indians,” Modi said as chants of “Bharat mata ki jai” rang out at the Central Hall in Westminster.
The PM, who is on a two-day trip to the UK for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, said the government disclosed the surgical strikes to Pakistan before going public with it. “I said before India gets to know, we should call Pakistan and tell them what we did so they can come and take the dead bodies if they have time. We were calling them since 11 am but they were scared to come on the phone. At 12 noon, we spoke to them and then told the media,” Modi said.
Modi, who has not shied away from attacking the dynastic politics of the Congress at the global stage, said it was the country’s misfortune that attempts were made to erase the culture and history of India after independence. “People were kept from anything but one single family. What Lord Basweshwar did for women empowerment, democracy, and social causes is an example for the world,” he said.
Saying that participative democracy was pivotal for good governance, Modi said the need of the hour was to make development a mass movement. Modi also said people’s expectations from the government had increased and days of incremental change were a thing of the past. “People know that when they say something, the government will listen and do it. Days of incremental change are over,” he said.
In the more than two hour session, the PM also found time to turn back the clock and reminisced his days as a tea seller. Modi said his life at the railway station was about his personal struggles and the person in the Royal Palace was the ‘sevak’ (servant) of 125 crore Indians. “The person in the railway station was Narendra Modi. The person in the Royal Palace in London is the sevak of 125 crore Indians,” the PM said when he was asked about his journey from a railway station to the palace.
In what seemed to be an outreach to the Dalits, who have been up in arms against the government over the Supreme Court’s dilution of the SC/ST Act and alleged atrocities against the community, Modi said he himself lived in poverty and knew how it felt to belong to backward sections of the society. The PM also said he wanted to work for the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden and bring about a positive change in the lives of the country’s poor.
“I do not need to read books to understand poverty. I have lived in poverty, I know what it is to be poor and belong to the backward sections of society. I want to work for the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden. As many as 18,000 villages did not have electricity. So many women do not have access to toilets. These realities of our nation did not let me sleep. I was determined to bring about a positive change in the lives of India’s poor,” the PM said.
Emphasising on initiatives to improve India’s healthcare sector, PM Modi said the government had plans to open around 1.5 lakh wellness centres across the country. “We have taken a holistic approach towards healthcare in India. We want to create wellness centres which will be technologically driven,” Modi said during the interactive session. During his address, Modi listed three priorities – “children must be educated, youth must have jobs and the elderly must have access to medicines”. Modi also highlighted that India was among the few nations that had focused on health concerns of women and introduced maternity leave of 26 weeks.