It’s a strange if not perplexing paradox that Narendra Modi, whose eloquence and communication skills are possibly unrivalled and definitely unsurpassed, is often disturbingly, if not distressingly, silent on issues that trouble Indians and have even become a cause of deep anguish. This failure or refusal to speak is, perhaps, the source of his most critical political lapse. Indeed, as we approach the 2019 elections, it’s, arguably, the reason so many are disillusioned with him.
Consider the multitude of times the Prime Minister has kept silent whilst the country waited in vain to hear him speak. It happened when Muslims were lynched, Dalits pilloried, Christians targeted and Gauri Lankesh murdered. But this is also the case when young girls or little children are horrifically raped or when free speech, difference and dissent is under attack. And, sadly, this has been the case for the last four years.
On the few occasions when Modi did speak out—for instance, when Christians were being attacked or cow vigilantes were on the rampage—it was not only far too late but, to be honest, it felt as if it had been forced out of him. But, worse, there were also occasions when the Prime Minister was found to be following on social media people who applauded the attackers and celebrated the attack. This is what happened when Gauri Lankesh was killed. At the time Modi did not disassociate himself whilst his party publicly defended his right to follow such troglodytes.
I can’t accept this was unintended or accidental. Modi is a deliberate man who thinks and plans his moves and statements meticulously. Which raises a critical question: why is the Prime Minister silent so often? Could it be because he doesn’t recognize the gravity of the situation? I doubt it. In fact, I find that hard to believe. Occasionally, perhaps, he might be so pre-occupied it’s genuinely slipped his mind or dipped in his priorities but that can’t be the case every time. No, I have little doubt the answer lies elsewhere.
Think, for a moment, of the people or organisations behind the attacks on Muslims, Christians and Dalits or the alleged Unao and Kathua rapists, Gauri Lankesh’s murderers and the vicious trolls on social media. What do they have in common? They are part of the wider parivar from which the RSS and the BJP draw their support. They are a critical section of this committed constituency. In fact, they are its loyal voters.
This suggests the PM’s silence is, perhaps, best explained by a desire not to offend. Even when he disagrees with them—and I hope that is often—he sees discretion as the better part of valour. Only when driven to it and left no other option has he voiced his concern or criticism. But that’s only happened very rarely.
This strategy may have kept his followers by his side but Modi has paid a steep price for this silence. Each time he’s failed or refused to take a stand around which our nation could rally he has also, ipso facto, ducked the challenge of moral leadership. Instead of guiding or lighting the path, he’s allowed the darkness to prevail. Perhaps even encouraged it. The truth is he’s chosen not to lead but to acquiesce and accept. And that means when India had need of a colossus he deliberately decided to behave like a dwarf.
So, now, when we vote in eight months, what is the image we have of him? Some, no doubt, will remember his economic reforms, or the Swachh Bharat Mission or his tough stands vis-à-vis Pakistan and China. Others will recall his spell-binding oratory. A few may even bear in mind his sartorial elegance or his indefatigability. But many will be unable to forget his failure to stand up for the liberal principles of our constitution, for justice and fair play, for decency and for just doing the right thing. As Mark Antony put it, “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”
If this determines how some or many vote Modi will have only himself to blame. After all, he could so easily have ensured it was otherwise.
Karan Thapar is a Senior Journalist and News Anchor and is a columnist writing for HW News Network. The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.