Post the Dadri lynching episode, which saw the brutal killing of Muhammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of beef consumption, the entire media discourse was concentrated on the appalling silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Being the elected leader of the world’s largest democracy, Modi should have led from the front in condemning the barbaric incident that led to an international uproar. It was incumbent upon the prime minister to visit Dadri and meet the family members of the deceased. It would have been a highly reassuring sight had Modi personally saluted Sartaj’s message of “Saare jahan se acha Hindustan humara” in his moment of agony.
Instead Modi chose battlefield Bihar to make a statement which made media headlines. The Prime Minister said that Hindus and Muslims can either fight each other or they can fight poverty together. It’s not the first time that Modi has uttered these words. He has made this statement during innumerable public speeches. It’s nothing but mere rhetoric! Does the statement in anyway condemn the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq? Does it suggest that people should have the freedom to consume beef, pork or whatever they wish to eat or does it even call for the swift prosecution of Akhlaq’s killers? Those who suggested that Modi had indeed condemned Dadri are wrong. He never did!
That’s the typical Modi style of dealing with fanaticism and fringe elements. As the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi made it a point to not talk about the 2002 Gujarat riots. If someone from the media asked him to apologise, he would plainly say that hang me if I am guilty or would simply stage a walk out. What would have happened had he humbly admitted that his administration failed to control the mayhem in 2002? He never retracted ridiculous statements like “Hum paanch, humare pachees” in which he mocked the victims of the riots by terming refugee camps as “baby producing factories”. Instead, he spoke of Gujarat’s pride during the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra wherein he constantly he talked about a canard being spread to defame Gujarat and its people.
When it comes to reining in right-wing Hindutva extremism, Modi’s strategy is clear. Give a superficial statement to appease what he terms as Lutyen’s Delhi’s “pseudo-secular media” but never touch upon the specifics. He has very carefully built upon a strategy of “semi-condemnation” during his stay at 7 Race Course Road. Prior to the Delhi Assembly Elections in February 2015, a number of churches in the national capital reported incidents of arson and vandalism. In December 2014, the biggest talking point was the “ghar wapsi” or reconversion of 250 Muslims to Hinduism in Agra by a group affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). News reports had suggested that the reconversion had taken place on the premise of providing Muslims with ration cards and other basic amenities following their conversion to Hinduism.
These incidents had painted a poor picture of India internationally. During his visit to India in January 2015, US President Barack Obama also said that India will progress as long as it is not “splintered” on religious lines. Eventually, prime minister Modi was also forced to react. At an event organised by the Christian community in the national capital, Modi said, “Government will not allow any religious group belonging to majority or minority to incite hatred against others overtly or covertly.” He added that every citizen had an “undeniable right to retain or adopt religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”
If one looks at the two statements carefully, he would be able to realise that Modi successfully played a con on the entire nation. In no manner did he condemn the burning down of St Sebastian Church or other churches which were attacked, nor did he say a word against the Agra conversions in particular. The point to be noted is that in both the cases the community at the receiving end belonged to a minority group, yet Modi said that “neither majority or minority” would be allowed to “incite hatred”.
This is not to suggest that communal violence is only when the minority is attacked by the majority. In many cases, it’s the other way round. We should always condemn the wrongdoers irrespective of whether they form part of the majority or minority. But when the minorities are under attack, the prime minister should gather the guts to reassure them of their safety by addressing the crux of the issue and distancing himself from brute majoritarianism.
Modi’s statements hint at a clever strategy. Whether its ghar wapsi, church attacks or Dadri, Modi speaks only when the storm has subsided. He has not made any attempt to come out strongly and be among the first ones to condemn or castigate communalism. Secondly, even when he does speak, he gives a generic statement and refrains from responding to the incident at hand be it Dadri, ghar wapsi or church attacks. This is where the danger lies. The ambiguity which Modi’s statements leave behind gives many extremists the courage to carry out more Dadri-like incidents because they think that Modi is on their side.
Ironically, YouTube clips of Modi’s speeches clearly show him calling for protection of cows and the valour which Maharana Pratap exhibited by protecting temples. If Modi can talk about these things then he can surely say that extra-judicial killing on the suspicion of beef consumption is wrong and so are attacks on churches. Why is the prime minister keeping silent? He has to avoid generalities and get to the specifics. “You say it best when you say nothing at all” is a beautiful line from a song by Irish musician Ronan Keating, but it doesn’t work that way in politics, lest one risks becoming another Manmohan Singh.
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)