Updated: October 15, 2015 11:10:33 am
Two weeks later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words let him down. Finally, he spoke of the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq by a mob in village Bisara on the suspicion that he had stored or consumed beef. It was “sad”, “not desirable”, the PM said. Such bland words from the eloquent communicator who has shown an unerring ability to use every occasion, and to craft some, to engage an audience, drive a point home.
The prime minister who so refreshingly punctured the impersonal pomp and remoteness of the Independence Day address from the ramparts of Red Fort when he spoke of the need for parents to rein in their sons rather than mind their daughters, and of the necessity of toilets in every home. The head of government who tweets regularly and shares his “Mann ki baat” with the people on radio many a Sunday morning. The leader who imaginatively seizes the so-far dull and rote Teacher’s Day commemorations to open up a disarming conversation with children. Especially from a PM such as this one, a nation shamed by the murderous mob at Bisara hoped for a different, more empathetic, and yes, less weak response.
Two weeks after the lynching, PM Modi’s words have let his office down. He shrugged away the responsibility of his government for Bisara: But “what role does the Central government have in these incidents?” And blamed the Opposition — for indulging in a “politics of polarisation” and for “fake secularism”. The PM makes a narrow point.
To be sure, law and order is a state subject and, therefore, UP’s Samajwadi Party government must accept direct responsibility for its breakdown at Bisara. And certainly, with the Bihar election underway, loose statements have flowed thick and fast from non-BJP quarters, as well as from within the BJP. Yet, the PM’s attempt to deflect all responsibility to the state government and the Opposition for the climate that makes Bisara look like it is part of a building pattern, is unpersuasive. It also makes him look less than prime ministerial. Surely, the country’s PM cannot avoid a full response to an issue that has echoed across the country by citing jurisdiction. Surely, in a moment like this, he cannot afford to look like he is only the leader of his own party, not the nation.
Speaking at an election rally in Bihar, the prime minister urged the people to listen to the president — Pranab Mukherjee did not mention the lynching by its name but spoke of the need to protect India’s “core civilisational values of diversity, tolerance and plurality”. Don’t heed the loose statements some politicians are making, don’t even listen to me if I also do the same, the PM had said. It is true that the president has spoken wisely and movingly. But in this fraught moment, the people look to their prime minister, too, for words that offer succour and reassurance.