The PM’s trail: Why is Modi not breaking his silence over Junaid Khan

Even as he focuses on his all-important meeting with the US President, all the PM’s men have not had one word to say in condolence on the lynching of a 15-year-old boy

Written by Jyoti Malhotra | Updated: June 26, 2017 9:49 am
Narendra Modi, Ram Nath Kovind, President Certainly, the PM will sooner than later voice his distress about the goings-on at home.

When prime minister @narendramodi and US president @realDonaldTrump shake hands at the White House later tonight, it won’t just be about the defence deals that Delhi hopes will sweeten an uncertain relationship – India is expected to buy $2-3 billion worth of drones – or their expected discussions on China and the AfPakregion that could potentially set the Potomac on fire.

Trump and Modi are also major social media giants – indeed, with 32.8 million and 31 million followers on Twitter, respectively, the two are the most followed leaders in the world. (@BarackObama is three times higher at 91.2 million, but he’s a private citizen now and doesn’t count.)

Still, Trump seems to be much more obsessed with politics at home than Modi. Check out his @POTUS Twitter feed. Of the last six tweets at the time of going to press on Sunday noon, five were harangues about how ObamaCare cheated the people of America and why the Democrats didn’t take action against the Russians when they were in power.

Just one tweet, albeit with 35K likes and 12K retweets, was about welcoming Modi to the US.

The PM responded warmly with a retweet, but not over-enthusiastically. The tone seemed just right. He is the leader of the world’s largest democracy after all, even if he’s going to meet the leader of the world’s oldest.

So when 15-year-old Junaid Khan was killed on the train home to Ballabhgarh in Haryana on June 22, the PM was still in India; but the horrific story has unfolded these last couple of days as he has travelled to Portugal and the US.

Everyone knows, by now, what happened. How four-five boys taunted Junaid and his brothers, calling them “beef-eaters”, throwing their skull caps on the floor and pulling their beards, while they fought over train seats.

Perhaps there is a reason for the PM’s silence – surely he is waiting for the Haryana cops to do their job. One of the accused, Ramesh, has indeed been held and he has confessed to being drunk when he stabbed Junaid.

Here are the Twitter feeds of the PM and his key ministers, since Junaid’s lynching.

On July 23, @narendramodi tweeted his remembrance of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, saying that his “exceptional contribution to India can never be forgotten,” sent birthday greetings to Himachal chief minister VirbhadraSingh, congratulated ISRO for its PSLV launch and accompanied BJP’s presidential candidate Ram NathKovind to file his nomination papers.

Over the last two days there are other messages, on the importance of his visit to Portugal, the US and Netherlands – where he will break journey on the return home after meeting Trump – as well as subsequent tweets about his experiences in Lisbon and his arrival in the US.

Interestingly, part of the ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio show on June 25, Sunday, is taken up with the PM’s thoughts about the Emergency exactly 42 years ago, when Indira Gandhi shut down the people’s freedoms. @PMOIndiaexplains it better.

And again:

There’s more in Hindi:

“Who aisi kaali raat thi, jo koi bhi loktantra premi bhula nahin sakta hai, koi bharatvaasi bhula nahin sakta hai (It was such a dark night that no Indian or true democrat can ever forget).

Haryana chief minister @mlkhattar has taken the PM’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ to heart and retweeted several of its most important points – such as the importance of sport in enhancing overall personality, creating a culture of reading by presenting a book instead of a bouquet of flowers, and how “Indian democracy is India’s strength” and kept the dark night of the Emergency at bay.

But Khattar has not one word in sympathy for Junaid’s death or a message of condolence to his family, nor a warning that such a crime – which took place in Ballabhgarh, Haryana – will never be allowed again.

A quick survey of the Twitter feeds of the PM’s key ministers is next:

Finance and Defence minister Arun Jaitley’s Twitter timeline hasn’t been updated since he signed the India Russia Inter-Governmental Protocol on bilateral defence cooperation. External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is focused on retweeting a story from The Pioneer about how former Lok Sabha speaker and current Opposition’s presidential candidate Meira Kumar interrupted her 60 times in Parliament when she was leader of the Opposition before 2014. She is, as always, singlemindedly attentive to the needs of Indians abroad – whether it is the death of a priest on Dunbar beach in Scotland, the plight of Indians in Qatar or getting a passport for a special needs child.

As for Home minister @rajnathsingh, his Sunday morning tweet is dedicated to Lord Jagannath’s rath yatra in Puri. BJP president @AmitShah’s tweets, meanwhile, are about participating in the celebrations of the Jagannath temple in Ahmedabad, retweeting the PM’s key statements from ‘Mann Ki Baat’ as well as an independent condemnation of the Emergency.

There’s nothing on Junaid’s lynching in any of these accounts.

Certainly, the PM will sooner than later voice his distress about the goings-on at home. Even when Mohammed Akhlaque was murdered on the night of September 28, 2015, ostensibly because he had kept beef in his refrigerator, the prime minister had just finished meeting then US President Barack Obama in New York. In that important meeting, Obama had promised the PM America’s support for an Indian permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Only a day before, Modi had met all the stars in San Jose – Elon Musk, Sundar Pichai, TimCook etc. He would now return home after a gruelingtrip that had taken him from coast to coast in the US.

Eight days later in Nawada, Bihar, as he campaigned for the BJP in the Assembly polls, the prime minister warned the people that they couldn’t take the law into their own hands.

“I have said it earlier too. Hindus should decide whether to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims have to decide whether to fight Hindus or poverty. Both need to fight poverty together. The country has to stay united, only communal harmony and brotherhood will take the nation forward. People should ignore controversial statements made by politicians, as they are doing so for political gains,” the PM said.

Right now in the US, as he prepares to meet Donald Trump, Modi knows he cannot take his eyes off the ball.

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