Days after the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq by a mob driven by a rumour that he had stored or consumed beef, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh called it “unfortunate” and promised action against those trying to “break communal harmony”. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has spoken about “these incidents” hurting the country’s image and amounting to “policy diversions”. Really? Are these bare statements all that the top echelons of India’s government have to offer in the aftermath of a murder that has made a nation recoil in shame? Is Akhlaq’s murder to be treated as only a law and order problem that calls for a mere administrative response, or as an avoidable spot on the country’s projection abroad? Will the Indian people, or those among them who are looking for reassurance and leadership in a bewildering moment, have to make do with the words of the titular head of state? On Wednesday, President Pranab Mukherjee did not mention Akhlaq’s murder either. But he spoke feelingly of the need to defend India’s “core civilisational values” of plurality, tolerance and diversity that “keep us together over centuries”.
The irony is, of course, that this government is headed by a politician who has made an art, fine and not, of communicating and connecting with the people, often over the heads of his own party, government and its institutions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is yet to speak on Akhlaq’s murder. His silence could have many reasons. But it has one fallout. It allows full play to the voice of the bigots within, who can no more be described as the fringe, and who seek to cast the victim as the culprit and use the lynching to inflame the BJP base in UP and elsewhere. They include an MP like Sakshi Maharaj, an MLA like Sangeet Som and a Union minister like Mahesh Sharma. The PM’s silence may have something to do with a conviction that this clamour, too, will pass. He could be making a miscalculation.
The lynching at Dadri may have set off echoes that could return to haunt a government whose mandate was made up of a positive vote for change and a relegated unease. Even as Modi embodied the forceful alternative to a weak and discredited regime, many supported him for also representing a muscular Hindutva, but many others voted for him with the hope that he would, if only for strategic and opportunistic reasons, keep the anti-minority strain in the BJP from spilling over. It is not just writer Nayantara Sahgal or poet Ashok Vajpeyi who question Modi’s silence after Dadri. If he looks more closely at “the people” next time he speaks to them on an issue of his own choosing, an issue which is not Dadri, he might just see a disillusion he may not find so easy to ignore.
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