Opinion Op Ed 01 Jul 2017 Shobhaa’s Take ...
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Shobhaa’s Take: Modi spoke up too little, too late

Published Jul 1, 2017, 1:07 am IST
Updated Jul 1, 2017, 1:07 am IST
The recent lynchings has been rightly described as ‘licence to kill’.
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi hug while making statements in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Photo: AP)
 President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi hug while making statements in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Photo: AP)

I wasn’t counting the number of bearhugs Prime Minister Narendra Modi exchanged with US President Donald Trump. I couldn’t watch! I mean, it was embarrassing. 

Both men are selfie-obsessed narcissists and clearly adore preening under the spotlight. Both are relatively new to the game that seasoned world leaders have been playing for years. These two behave like celebrity-struck schoolboys when they see photographers, often forgetting they are celebrities themselves! Given their similar personalities, it was inevitable that the historic meeting in the White House would turn into a clash of peacocks. Fortunately, Mr Modi refrained from wearing a monogrammed suit (he has learnt his lesson well), and sartorially speaking, he was appropriately and soberly dressed. Nearly every aspect of his well-timed visit was kosher except for those hugs and handshakes. 


In future, someone should tell him there is always a cut-off point for such ardent displays of camaraderie and “true friendship”. The revealing body language of top personalities is keenly analysed these days. So when a Prime Minister makes it a habit to indulge in a hugging spree with any and every leader he meets (excluding women, of course, who get just a distant namaste), these photo-ops become monotonous, predictable and interchangeable. Stoppppp! Do us a favour, Mr Modi. Please let go of that hand you have been vigorously pumping for what appears like hours! There were two main takeaways from this trip. One was the declaration of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist (this one’s a biggie). The other needs further analysis. Mr Modi bragged about his “stain-free” government. Which stain was he talking about? Is there just one sort of a stain that a nation needs to notice and deal with? He was referring to his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy towards financial jigri pokiri. 


Well, let’s hand it to this government for now at least a serious attempt is being made to root out corruption at all levels. And the results are pretty evident. Not that corruption can ever be eliminated, when it is this endemic, but certainly, the right noises are being made. Even petty crooks seem to be repackaging old bad habits and following more transparent business practices. Critics do point out that the process itself appears to be selective and arbitrary, aimed at soft targets or personalities, who lend themselves to dramatic media coverage. Going after big guns and making examples of a few is a smart strategy. But what about nabbing seasoned political crooks too?


It’s a shame the real “stains” in our society were totally ignored. No reference was made on the tour to the lynching spree back home. No explanation was provided for the cow mania sweeping across the country, and, of course, no apology offered to innocent victims of hate crimes. When a 15-year-old boy, returning from Delhi with his eidi, is pounced upon and killed for being a “beef-eater”, and the Prime Minister says nothing, his silence becomes an endorsement of the brutality. Junaid Khan’s stabbing in the Mathura-bound train has triggered off protests across India. While #NotInMyName has yet to be converted into a mass movement, it is still an important protest, organised by citizens who feel deeply disturbed by what they see as a vicious campaign aimed at Muslims for being Muslims. Nothing else. 


Someone has rightly described these attacks as being a “licence to kill”. If Mr Modi had spoken up two years ago when Mohammad Akhlaq was fatally attacked on the mere suspicion that he had stored beef in his home, Junaid would still be alive. But Mr Modi and his team pretended to have nothing to do with that horrific incident. They let it go without condemnation. And look at what happened!

Today, gangs of jobless, frustrated and hostile young men roam the streets of India, looking for helpless victims wearing skull caps and sporting beards. They don’t need provocation or a reason to slaughter. Junaid’s killers said they were “provoked” by others to attack the boy. Would they have been this easily provoked to kill someone if they knew they would face a stiff and prompt, punitive action? Of course, not! The fact that thousands of Hindu young men believe they can impudently take law into their own hands and kill at will is the worst indictment of the government in power. Those hell-bent on violence under the guise of protecting cows are nothing but criminals, and should be treated as criminals. When their political bosses choose to shield them, the message sent out is lethal. Murderers are being condoned in Mr Modi’s India. Cold-blooded killers confidently go on rampages for they know they will get away with heinous hate crimes. 


When a country is on the brink of surrendering to bloodthirsty mobs, it cannot claim to be “stain-free”. What could be a bigger stain than the abuse and destruction of innocent human lives?

It is time to stop cheap, misleading propaganda. In this day and age, people cannot be manipulated and fooled all that easily. Junaid’s death has touched a chord. Agreed, “elitist” protest marches don’t achieve very much, but they do perform an important role in a democracy that is supposed to respect the rights of each citizen, and listen to the voices of the oppressed.


Fortunately, Mr Modi has wisely undertaken a much-delayed damage control by issuing a statement of sorts in Gujarat (June 29), in which he has invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s name yet again and said violence will not to be tolerated in the name of “gau raksha”. He could have been far more direct and forceful in the condemnation of the lynchings. But he has been persuaded to acknowledge the elephant in the room at long last, which is a good thing. It comes as a two-edged sword though.

If the lynchings continue it will show him up as a non-leader. If they stop, citizens will wonder what took him so long to speak up. Before Mr Modi sets off on yet another foreign trip to generously distribute those “jadoo ki jhappis” to startled global leaders, perhaps he should trouble himself — just a wee bit will do — to focus on other stains. The ones that can damage India’s long-term interests far more than a few mega crooks being thrown into the clink for tax evasion.