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The PM speaks

His answers on Rajan’s exit and on the bigotry within spark more questions

By: Editorial |
June 29, 2016 12:12:45 am

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interview to the TV channel, Times Now, was remarkable in itself. This, after all, is a PM who makes many speeches at public forums, regularly puts out his message on social media, but rarely takes questions from the “traditional” media. Having said that, on many issues, it was more notable for what the PM did not say. On Raghuram Rajan’s imminent exit as RBI governor, for instance, the PM handed him a certificate on patriotism, said that

“it (his patriotism) is no less than any of ours” and that “those who speak such language are doing great injustice to him”. It was a snub, certainly, to Subramanian Swamy, BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha, who had accused Rajan of being “mentally not fully Indian” — but it was no more than that. It did not dispel the more substantive unease sparked by the episode that is set to conclude in September with the exit of one of the finest minds in the economic policy team available to the government at a crucial juncture for India’s economy. Rajan’s own announcement of departure had suggested that he could have been open to staying on.

On another question, about “hotheads who make extreme comments”, the PM’s response was dissatisfying, again — not because of the position he took, but because it gives rise to further questions. “Don’t make them heroes”, he said, and “they will stop”. In other words, the PM was saying that the media must take responsibility for the BJP “hotheads”; that, presumably, if it did not give them prominence, they would stop saying things that purvey hate and stoke minority anxieties and insecurities. But who takes responsibility when the inflammatory comments and statements come not from those in the BJP who can be described or dismissed as maverick or “fringe”, but from those who hold important positions in the party and government? Who must be held accountable when at the party’s national executive in Allahabad, BJP president Amit Shah seems to legitimise reports of a Hindu “exodus” from Kairana, that have been revealed on closer look, including by this paper, to be based only on unabashed spectre-mongering by local BJP leaders? Who must take the blame for the bigoted statements made on beef ever since the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, by BJP and government eminences including UP BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya and Union minister Sanjeev Baliyan, both of whom have sought to shift the onus of proving innocence to the family of the man who was lynched?

On foreign policy, more specifically on Pakistan and China, the PM seemed more forthcoming, more thoughtful. Despite the recent Pampore attack and India’s NSG setback, without anger or bitterness, he set out the complexity of the options before his government. On China, he underlined that “foreign policy is not about changing mindsets” but about “finding common meeting points”. On Pakistan, he seemed to underline the inevitability of engagement while pointing to the difficult question of “to whom do we talk to decide about the lakshman rekha”.

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