MODI’S SI­LENCE AF­TER BRU­TAL ACTS RISKS A PO­LIT­I­CAL BACK­LASH

In­dian PM speaks vol­umes when he makes no com­ment,

The National - News - - WORLD NEWS - writes Sa­manth Subra­ma­nian

In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi, styles him­self as a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor. But in moments of na­tional ten­sion, the Hindu na­tion­al­ist leader in­vari­ably has lit­tle to say.

He has again failed to speak up, in the eyes of his crit­ics, this time af­ter two bru­tal cases that have rat­tled In­dia: the al­leged rape of a teenage girl and the rape and killing of an 8-year-old Mus­lim girl.

Grow­ing public anger over the cases has led thousands of an­gry pro­test­ers to take to the streets as the coun­try’s op­po­si­tion ap­plies pres­sure to Mr Modi, who re­mained silent for days af­ter the details of the crimes emerged.

In Mr Modi’s four years as prime min­is­ter, Hindu right-wingers – the base of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have been in­volved in rapes, lynch­ings, mur­ders and other crim­i­nal acts. Mr Modi has largely re­fused to com­ment on these in­ci­dents, which his crit­ics say makes him com­plicit in bring­ing about “this ter­ri­fy­ing state of af­fairs”.

A group of 49 re­tired bu­reau­crats who had once served in key posts in fed­eral or state gov­ern­ments used that phrase in a heated let­ter de­liv­ered to Mr Modi on Sun­day. Even af­ter the two rapes – one al­legedly by a BJP politi­cian in Ut­tar Pradesh who has now been ar­rested, the other al­legedly by Kash­miri Hindu men who were sub­se­quently de­fended by Hindu right-wing groups – Mr Modi had “cho­sen to re­main silent, break­ing your si­lence only when public out­rage … reached a point when you could no longer ig­nore it”, the let­ter read.

Be­fore Mr Modi came to power, he was chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat for more than a decade, at a time when the Congress Party – now the op­po­si­tion – formed the govern­ment. As a se­ries of cor­rup­tion scams tum­bled out of that govern­ment, Mr Modi fre­quently mocked the prime min­is­ter, Man­mo­han Singh, for his si­lence, us­ing the Hindi word “maun” for mute to call him “Maun­mo­han Singh”.

Through­out his own 2014 elec­tion cam­paign and af­ter­wards, Mr Modi promised to be more open and com­mu­nica­tive than Mr Singh. He used his per­sonal Twit­ter feed, where he has 42 mil­lion fol­low­ers, to post a se­ries of mes­sages and greet­ings. On Mann Ki

Baat, his monthly ra­dio show, Mr Modi shares his thoughts about so­cial or eco­nomic mat­ters. Through his epony­mous app, he pushes mes­sages and emails de­signed to con­vey his pol­icy ideas.

But in other ways, Mr Modi is less ac­ces­si­ble and more tightlipped than his pre­de­ces­sor.

While Mr Singh of­ten held press con­fer­ences, Mr Modi has not sched­uled one dur­ing his ten­ure. His only ma­jor in­ter­views have been a few care­fully scripted ap­pear­ances with star an­chors on tele­vi­sion shows, and ques­tions put to him are reg­u­larly vet­ted.

His public state­ments af­ter dis­turb­ing events have been sim­i­larly short and generic. When he fi­nally spoke out on Fri­day about the two rape cases, he did so as part of a larger po­lit­i­cal speech in Delhi. He re­ferred to the rapes as “in­ci­dents be­ing dis­cussed for the past two days”, and he promised that “our daugh­ters will def­i­nitely get jus­tice”.

He made no ref­er­ence to the fact that a mem­ber of his own party had been ac­cused of rape in Ut­tar Pradesh. Nor did he men­tion that two BJP min­is­ters in Kash­mir had joined other Hindu na­tion­al­ist groups in protest­ing against the ar­rest of eight Hindu men on charges of com­mit­ting or abet­ting rape in con­nec­tion with the 8-year-old girl’s death.

Mr Modi has pre­vi­ously stayed silent af­ter sim­i­lar cases. In 2015, af­ter a mob of Hindu right-wingers beat up and lynched a Mus­lim man be­cause they sus­pected he had beef in his house, he did not com­ment for eight days.

When he fi­nally did, he of­fered just five sen­tences about com­mu­nal har­mony and brother­hood, as well as the need for Mus­lims and Hin­dus “to fight poverty to­gether”.

The In­dian leader has re­fused to dis­own or crit­i­cise mem­bers of his party, nor Hindu groups al­lied to the BJP, who have made con­tro­ver­sial or in­cen­di­ary re­marks.

In Jan­uary, a BJP leg­is­la­tor in Ut­tar Pradesh claimed that Hin­dus were in dan­ger of be­ing swamped by a ris­ing Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. An­other leader said, last year, that Mus­lims must vote for the BJP or “face dif­fi­cul­ties”. Mr Modi did not re­spond to these re­marks.

On Twit­ter, Mr Modi fol­lows sev­eral ac­counts that post anti-Mus­lim mes­sages, or that send threats of rape or death to crit­ics of the BJP.

In the run-up to In­dia’s next gen­eral elec­tion in 2019, the na­ture of po­lit­i­cal rhetoric is likely to be­come yet more charged. The BJP’s lead­ers have proven them­selves to be in­flam­ma­tory in at­tack. If Mr Modi chooses not to rein them in with his own words, he will be tac­itly en­cour­ag­ing them. His si­lence will speak vol­umes.

EPA

Kash­miri lawyers dur­ing a protest yes­ter­day call­ing for jus­tice in the rape and mur­der case of a girl, 8, in Srinagar, the state’s cap­i­tal. Eight peo­ple have been in­dicted in the case

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