Modi’s eerie silence on key issues

Rajeev Sharma
Published — Thursday 25 June 2015

Shakespeare had famously said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” However, in contemporary Indian politics what aptly sums up the trait of the head of the government is another quotable quote: Speech is silver, silence is golden.
This is what Indian prime ministers have been doing in past quarter century from P.V. Narasimha Rao onwards. Rao, in fact, gave a new dimension to this virtue and in his case a new phrase was also coined: “No action is also action.”
But the best known practitioner of the art of silence was none other than Manmohan Singh who was the prime minister for a decade from 2004 to 2014. The opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Pary (BJP) threw barbs at him on virtually daily basis for keeping mum. So much so that the BJP politicians dubbed him as “Maun-Mohan Singh” — the Hindi word “maun” meaning silent.
When Narendra Modi was anointed as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in September 2013, he repeatedly took a dig over “Maun-Mohan Singh” — be it his silence over tensions with Pakistan or China, or his Cabinet colleagues making controversial statements, or the sliding of the Indian Rupee, or the spiraling prices of vegetables like onions.

Modi came in as a whiff of fresh air and promised to change it all. But alas, shortly after Modi occupied the hot seat of the prime minister, he too became a prisoner of the familiar image of PM becoming silent. The wheel has come full circle. Narendra Modi today has become “Maun Modi”.
The list of controversial remarks made by BJP leaders that embarrassed the Modi government is quite long. But here are a few examples. The notable thing is that Modi kept quiet throughout.
Giriraj Singh, one of the prominent BJP leaders from Bihar, shocked everyone during general election campaign by calling Modi’s critics Pakistanis. He said, “Those who want to stop BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will soon have no place in India… because their place will be in Pakistan.”
Modi kept quiet. Last November Modi inducted him into his council of ministers. But Singh continued to shoot off his mouth even after becoming minister and took a dig at Congress President Sonia Gandhi with a blatantly racist remark for which he had to apologize in Parliament. He had said whether Congress party would have accepted Sonia as its chief if the color of her skin hadn’t been white.
Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat too embarrassed the Modi government many times with his rabidly fundamentalist remarks. For those who are not very familiar with Indian politics, it must be pointed out that the RSS chief is to the BJP government in New Delhi what Sonia Gandhi was for the Manmohan Singh government.Though Modi had made pro-Muslim remarks and said Indian Muslims would live and die for India, Bhagwat came up with a much different take and remarked thus: “Hindustan is a Hindu nation…Hindutva is the identity of our nation and it (Hinduism) can incorporate others (religions) in itself.”
Now consider another motormouth BJP leader, Yogi Adityanath. He was the BJP’s star campaigner in last year’s by-elections in Uttar Pradesh but his party performed miserably. His inflammatory speeches were held responsible for BJP’s dismal performance. He had infamously said that communal riots happen in places where a particular minority community (read Muslims) constitutes 20-40 percent of the total population.
Another example is Babulal Gaur, home minister of the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. He described rape as a social crime, which is “sometimes right, sometimes wrong” and also insisted that governments could not ensure that women do not get raped. Last month while speaking at a party function he said he had offered to teach the wife of a Russian leader the art of removing dhoti. “I told her (wife of a local Russian leader) I can’t teach you how to wear it, but I can certainly teach you how to remove it, but that too later not now.”
Last, but not the least, is the infamous case of Niranjan Jyoti, a minister in the Modi government. During election campaign for Delhi assembly polls earlier this year, she told voters in west Delhi’s Shyam Nagar in Hindi that they have to decide whether Delhi will get a government of “Ramzadas” (those born of Ram) or of “Haramzadas” (those born illegitimately).
Modi kept mum – yet again.
Today another controversy is raging over the former chief of Indian Premier League (IPL) Lalit Modi, who is abroad and facing charges of financial fraud of over $300 million. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and chief minister of BJP-ruled Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje are facing the heat for helping Lalit Modi, which the opposition has alleged was nothing but a quid pro quo and a return favor for whatever he had done for them.
But Modi has not spoken a word on this scandal and his party leaders have stoutly defended the two ladies. He has not opened his mouth even after BJP MP R.K. Singh, a former union home secretary, has lashed out against Lalit Modi by calling him a “fugitive” and demanded that his assets be seized. Modi’s silence in the Lalitgate is deafening. The question is whether Modi is a partner in the crime or plain coward or a procrastinator or just waiting for it to die its own death? The Congress party has unleashed a barrage of questions but Modi continues to be silent.
His silence will only accentuate the political crisis further and expose the BJP to the charge of doublespeak.