PM Narendra Modi’s Doosrahttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/pm-modis-doosra/

PM Narendra Modi’s Doosra

The PM is no district magistrate and cannot be expected to personally look after a family in Dadri. But he ought to do what leaders must.

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The PM is no district magistrate and cannot be expected to personally look after a family in Dadri. But he ought to do what leaders must.

The doosra is an off-spinner’s version of the googly — bowled like an off-break but a delivery that spins away from the stumps like a leg-break. It has baffled batsmen and administrators, and its legality is still suspect.

The prime minister tried to spin a doosra on Day One of his 40-rally campaign in Bihar. Across two rallies, he first deftly put beef on the boil, suggesting, incorrectly, that Lalu Prasad had said that the devil had got into him. Then, without bothering to elaborate on President Pranab Mukherjee’s extempore remarks, he hurriedly asked the enthusiastic crowd to follow “his” message. Modi even offered people (Hindus and Muslims) a fake choice — one he had also highlighted on Independence Day last year — on whether to “fight” each other or target poverty. There was no reference to the mob lynching that took place a few kilometres away from his official residence. But those who wanted him to “speak” felt spoken to.

The doosra has had the desired effect, with enthusiastic fellow campaigners taking the cue. Beef continues to be on the boil, with Modi’s followers continuously raking it up with the intent to polarise voter sentiment along communal lines. Union Minister Giriraj Singh opined that the difference between goat meat and cow meat was the “difference between your relationship with your sister and wife”.

The truly 21st century, “development-based” and “casteless” election needed a punching bag. What better issue than the cow for overt attacks, and bahu-beti for tangential assaults?

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The prime minister, while campaigning in elections or conducting business in office or on tour, ought to be conscious of his words, deeds and gestures. India is a large and complex country. Sometimes, it takes just a word for things to go wrong or to be set right. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, from the same party and subscribing to the same political project, knew to spin and land on the right word.

He could not get the chief minister of Gujarat to step down in the wake of the 2002 riots, yet his use of the term “rajdharma” when things were spiralling out of control with devastating consequences, had a calming influence of sort and helped India recover its balance. Modi should have checked exactly what Lalu had said before invoking the devil.

Lalu is no shrinking violet and gives back as good as he gets. But in this particular instance, Lalu, whose comment has subsequently been uploaded on to YouTube, had said “this is some shaitan who has put words in my mouth”. So to hear the PM go off and attack Lalu without checking what he had said disappointed those of us who wanted to hear a PM in Bihar. Modi’s admirers may think that his biting and acerbic wit has set the bar high for the discourse on “badlaav” and “development”. But we certainly deserve, and expect, better.

The PM is no district magistrate and cannot be expected to personally look after a family in Dadri. But he ought to do what leaders must. He should be seen to be standing up against what the mob in Dadri that day stood for. Without worrying about his international image or investment, he should have reprimanded the mob within his party; he should have put the lid back on the cauldron. Instead, the temperature has risen further, with even the mild Sushil Modi saying the Bihar election is between “beef-eaters” and those who will ban cow slaughter (never mind that the ban came into effect in the state 60 years ago). Senior cabinet ministers and MPs prefer to perpetuate rumours and discuss cow slaughter, and not mention the mob lynching. To blur the line between the mob and ministers cannot be good tactics for a party just into its second year in office.

When Modi arrived in south Bihar, we expected him to surprise his critics and wow his followers with his development agenda. Instead, we heard him mention “Yaduvanshi” at least twice, and learned how a particular caste must be referred to only in the context of
cow-herding. Desperate to hear about development, not caste, and murder, not beef, we felt a little cheated when the doosra was delivered.

seema.chishti@expressindia.com