“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails… enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America,” said Senator Bernie Sanders as Hillary Rodham Clinton responded with the words, “Thank you, Bernie” during CNN’s first democratic presidential debate. The moment was one of rare political maturity.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s usage of private email while in office is quite a controversial issue. But senator Bernie Sanders, who is competing for democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton, made it clear that the real issues were concerning income inequality and employment as opposed to emails. Though Republicans would be far from satisfied on seeing Sanders’ exoneration of Hillary, the fact of the matter is that at least one American politician had the courage to talk about the bigger picture instead of falling prey to an easy political whip against a fellow competitor.
Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed out on an opportunity to exhibit similar political sanity. We need to credit Modi for having directly addressed the Dadri lynching episode during a newspaper interview and terming the tragedy as “unfortunate and unwarranted”. It was encouraging to learn that PM Modi did not approve of the opposition to Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai. Unfortunately, that’s where the Prime Minister stopped!
Instead of going forward and sacking retrograde Hindutva hatemongers like Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma and BJP MLA Sangeet Som, both of whom passed insensitive remarks following Dadri lynching, the Prime Minister attempted self exoneration by stating that the buck did not stop at the central government. He further went on to score political brownie points by accusing rival parties of “pseudo-secularism” and practising “politics of polarisation”.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a shame that such a timid response is coming from the prime minister of India. Firstly, his response to Dadri is much delayed and incidentally two days after the first phase of elections in Bihar. The timing in itself is worth suspecting. Was the statement a damage control exercise? Or did the BJP think that it had milked the post-Dadri polarisation just as much as it had wanted to and decided to drag the issue out of headlines to prevent any further disrepute to the central government?
Secondly, while law and order in the state of Uttar Pradesh certainly doesn’t come within the purview of the central government, Modi does happen to be the boss of both Mahesh Sharma and Sangeet Som. What’s stopping Modi from the sacking the two? While Sharma tried to downplay the lynching episode by stating that since Danish had not incurred any fracture, it proves that the mob did not intend to lynch him, Som held a meeting in Bishahra in defiance of prohibitory orders and spoke of “Hindu retaliation”.
The phraseology which both the men had employed clearly hinted at their overt sympathy towards the mob responsible for killing Akhlaq and injuring Danish. If Modi felt strongly about Dadri then he should have made sure that these men ceased to be a part of the government and party, respectively.
Thirdly, BJP is the single largest party in Maharashtra. The Sena-BJP government is led by BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis and yet the past few days were a witness to unfortunate incidents involving Sudheendra Kulkarni and Ghulam Ali. What’s preventing Modi from communicating his reservations to Uddhav Thackeray? If the Shiv Sena is not in a mood to listen then Modi should call off the alliance. But he won’t since he has chosen the simple way out. Blame the opposition parties and raise hollow rhetoric.
In such testing times of rising intolerance, the leader of a country is expected to reassure citizens of the rule of law. But Modi chose to paint a helpless picture of his and left the blame at the door of the state governments. Ironically, he overlooked the fact that one of them was led by his own party.
Bipartisanship should be an essential element of politics. When an incident like Dadri happens, political leaders should come together and uphold the composite culture of our nation. It goes without saying that Modi is an excellent communicator. He should have chosen his words carefully and refrained from politicising Dadri and other incidents. If he had done so, he may have become another Bernie Sanders. However, he didn’t and instead resorted to centre-state jurisdiction and partisan politics! But then we must not forget that rising above politics is not in the DNA of our political parties. After all, the Congress also sacked Shashi Tharoor as its spokesperson for lending support to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)