Updated: October 25, 2015 7:17:44 am
At this point in Narendra Modi’s term as Prime Minister we should have been talking about good things. Jobs, growth, economic reforms, new policies, India’s role in the world and her transition towards fulfilling that promise of making the 21st century her own. Instead, all we have talked about since Mohammad Akhlaq’s barbaric murder are the things that have held India back for decades. Old hatreds, old enmities, cultural intolerance and religious violence. These things have so dominated the national debate that it is beginning to feel as if we have moved backwards to an uglier time when such things were routine.
Those were times when the burning alive of two Dalit babies would not have made the news, leave alone headlines. Times when we talked of massacres and not individual killings because in the wilds of rural India it was accepted that upper castes would abuse and subjugate lower castes as they had always done. And that they would seize all the fruits of development and progress, and lower castes and Muslims would be confined to cleaning their filth and living off scraps from the high-caste table.
In the seventies when I began my career as a reporter, I remember many occasions when upper caste photographers refused to accept food or drink in a Dalit home. They were horrible times and the reason why so many Congress voices have shrieked about ‘growing intolerance’ in recent days is because they know exactly what that means. So pious lectures from Congress leaders is what we do not need, but if they have been emboldened to give them, it is because the Prime Minister has remained silent when he should have been leading from the front.
So silent that he has allowed the President to speak for him. The President has spoken so often in recent days that it has felt as if he was speaking on his own behalf instead of on behalf of the government. And senior journalists who should know that he can only speak on behalf of the government, have made it sound as if he were doing the opposite and going out of his way to draw attention to the government’s failures. Opposition politicians have contributed happily to confirming this impression in the hope that this will help demolish the BJP in Bihar.
If the Prime Minister has noticed what is happening, he has not shown that he has. It is time that he did or he could find that people will lose faith in his agenda for change and development and begin to believe what his enemies always said, that the real reason why he won a full majority was because of Hindutva. We have seen about as much of the Hindutva agenda as we need to. It has poisoned the air with hatred and violence and needs now to be put back into the sealed box in which it belongs.
The Prime Minister must make it absolutely clear to his chief ministers that when he talked about ‘minimum government’ he meant what he said. It is not ‘minimum government’ when chief ministers start telling us what we can and cannot eat. The Chief Minister of Haryana went one step further and said in an interview to this newspaper that if Muslims wanted to live in India, they would have to stop eating beef. Does this sound like ‘minimum government’, Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister’s silence has encouraged his ministers to speak on his behalf and they have done a very bad job of it. The Home Minister speaks about every new ghastly atrocity as if it were just an ‘unfortunate’ nuisance, as do other senior ministers. And General V K Singh lowered the level of discourse further by comparing the murder of the Dalit children in Faridabad to a dog hit by a stone. What he meant was that the Government of India could not be dragged into every local incident, but the words he chose were truly unfortunate.
Meanwhile, on prime time chat shows, television journalists who have long predicted that Modi as prime minister would be a disaster, now take obvious glee in pointing out that they were right. BJP spokesmen have been completely hopeless in defending the government. Every new atrocity causes them to race off to TV studios to declare that worse atrocities occurred in secular Congress times. We know this.
And everyone also knows that the Congress now has only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. The reason why Modi (not the BJP) was given a full mandate was because of the hope that he would be a strong new kind of leader who would bring about the ‘parivartan’ that India so desperately needs. He needs to remember that it is when times are fraught with tension that leaders need to show leadership.
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