Updated: October 11, 2021 7:29:55 am
The Prime Minister recently revealed, in one of his rare interviews, that he missed critics. ‘But, unfortunately, the number of critics is very few,’ he said. ‘Mostly, people only level allegations, the people who play games about perception are more in number.’ It is with these words in mind that I make clear before going any further that I consider myself an honest critic. But, what I want to begin with is neither an allegation or criticism but a simple statement of facts. On a narrow, dirt road in Lakhimpur Kheri last week, a cavalcade of SUVs, one of them at least belonging to the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Kumar Mishra, drove at high speed into a group of protesting farmers, and when they were mowed down, proceeded to drive over their bodies.
Hours later, the Prime Minister arrived in Lucknow, not far from where the killings happened, and made a speech about urbanisation and the strides he was helping India take in this direction. Beside him stood the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh who also behaved as if he had no idea that eight people died in a crime committed with such sickening callousness that the videos were hard to watch. After four men were crushed to death, enraged farmers took the law into their own hands and killed three people who were travelling in the cars that were in the minister’s convoy. A young journalist was also killed and his family claims that his body had wheel marks on it although the BJP’s propaganda machine has tried to spread the word that he was beaten to death by farmers. These are the bare facts.
Now comes an allegation. I find it shocking that, after so horrific an incident, there has not been a single word of condemnation from the Prime Minister, who likes to remind us, from time to time, that he is really the Pradhan Sevak (prime servant) of the people of India. If he truly believes this, then does he not feel the pain of what happened? Does he not feel the need to say something? Or does he agree with the view expressed by the man whose car mowed the farmers down that they needed to be taught a lesson? Unfortunately, he made a speech saying this, days before his cavalcade became a killing machine. Unfortunately, the BJP chief minister of Haryana made a similarly threatening speech just before this awful incident, so the Prime Minister’s silence gives the impression that these speeches were made with his assent. That is an allegation.
Let me return now to my role as critic. The Prime Minister is not a man of long silences. Almost every day he can be heard tweeting or speaking. Sometimes he tweets many times a day. When something horrible happens in some distant country, he nearly always offers commiseration and condolences. Why is it so hard for him to tweet when something horrible happens in India?
Last week was a truly awful one. The horror of Lakhimpur Kheri had just begun to sink in when came a spate of killings in Srinagar. A much-loved Hindu chemist was killed in his shop. Two teachers were asked their religion and when they were found to not be Muslim, they were killed by the jihadi monsters who came hunting for Hindus and Sikhs to kill. In their killing spree they managed also to kill a couple of Muslims, but the pattern was so reminiscent of that time 20 years ago when Hindus were ethnically cleansed from the Kashmir Valley that it is hard not to believe that this is not a similar exercise. Why does the Prime Minister not feel the need to speak or at the very least tweet?
In the past week he has tweeted his greetings to our ‘air warriors’ on Air Force Day. He has sent Navratri greetings. He has thanked those who wished him to mark the twentieth anniversary of his career as a public servant. He has tweeted about the ‘honour of inaugurating Oxygen plants across India’. And, there have been many more tweets of similar banality. Could he not find a few minutes to express his horror at the killings in Lakhimpur Kheri and Kashmir? That is criticism veiled in a question.
Now here comes some open criticism. Prime Minister, it is my considered and ever humble opinion that you have surrounded yourself with such a large collection of sycophants and timeservers that you have begun to treat your critics as enemies. This is easy to do when the delusion that India, because of you, has become a land of endless good times (achche din) is backed up by an army of aggressive trolls who see all criticism as ‘anti-national’ and who charge anyone who dares say anything against you with high treason. In such an atmosphere, it is easy to mistake genuine critics for foes, easy to get fooled into believing that sycophants are your only real friends. They are not.
They have done you harm as sycophants always do. You say in that same interview that you ‘attach big importance to criticism’ and that you ‘respect critics a lot’. It is time that you began to show that you do, because your political instincts, that have always been remarkably sharp, appear to have dulled. Or you would have expressed outrage at the killings last week.
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