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PM's Mann ki Baat not enough. India needs action on intolerance

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 27 October 2015, 12:15 IST

The address

  • Prime Minister Modi addressed his 13th \'Mann Ki Baat\' to the nation on 25 October
  • He finally broke his silence on intolerance, speaking about Sardar Patel\'s mantra for unity

The shortcomings

  • Two months have passed since Kalburgi\'s murder, and a month since the Dadri lynching
  • Modi still doesn\'t seem entirely candid and unambiguous about the incidents of intolerance

More in the story

  • The contrast between the PM\'s statement and the President\'s
  • How Modi has given the opposition a stick to beat him with

Nearly a month after Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob in Dadri on the suspicion of having eaten and stored cow-meat in his house, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has broken his silence on the rising incidents of intolerance in the country.

Or has he?

In the 13th edition of his monthly radio address to the nation, 'Mann Ki Baat' on 25 October, the PM stressed, among other things, on Sardar Patel's 'mantra of unity'.

While it is heartening to note that the PM finally decided to give his backing to the cause of unity, he wasn't entirely candid and unambiguous about it.

Dearth of specifics

'Mann Ki Baat' has completed a year of broadcast. This was the 13th 'episode', as the PM himself calls it, with the first one having aired on 3 October 2014.

In the latest one, Modi touched upon many themes, including organ donation, the India-Africa summit, Sansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana, Swachh Bharat, the abolishment of interviews for lower posts in government services, the gold monetisation scheme, his forthcoming visit to the United Kingdom and Patel's birth anniversary on 31 October.

The PM said Patel's mantra of unity should be "the medium of our thoughts, conduct and expression". India is full of diversities and this diversity is the mantra of unity, he noted, also saying that peace, good-will and unity is the jadi-booti (elixir) of development. He exhorted people of the country to pay tribute to the Sardar and "take forward the mantra of unity".

The popular media has hailed these words. It has depicted this as the PM breaking his silence on the killing of Akhlaq and several other recent instances of violence, fueled by intolerance.

It's heartening that Modi finally backed the cause of unity, but he wasn't entirely candid about it

But note his use of words. He did not refer to any of these incidents, be it Akhlaq's lynching, the murder of rationalist scholar Dr MM Kalburgi, or the killing of Dalits in Haryana.

He didn't even refer to the inherent issues of violence, intolerance, and communal discord. He expressed neither pain nor condemnation. If anything, he appeared to have erred by listing caste as one of the many diversities in India that we should be proud of.

Many would argue his high office demands that his public addresses stay away from specific instances and that hints are enough. However, if he can cite specific instances to highlight what he feels is good work being done under the Aadarsh Gram Yojana and Swachh Bharat campaign, why can't he do the same to red-flag incidents that are tearing the nation apart?

Contrast with President's words

Even if we accept the argument that occupants of high-offices need to speak in symbolism, contrast the PM's remarks against those of President Pranab Mukherjee.

On 7 October, just days after the Dadri incident, Mukherjee had made an unambiguous appeal for tolerance, identifying it as a core value of Indian civilisation.

"We should not allow the core values of our civilisation to wither away. Over the years, our civilisation has celebrated diversity, plurality and promoted and advocated tolerance. These values have kept us together over the centuries," he asserted.

The President spoke again on the occasion of Vijayadashami, about a fortnight later. He was much more forthright this time.

The President's emphasis on social harmony was unmistakable, while the PM sounded cryptic

"The main thing is tolerance, to try and understand each other and preserve different identities of each other," he underlined, adding, "We can see that in the idol of Goddess Durga; different, seemingly disparate forces can be seen co-existing."

His use of a mythological analogy was striking. "Shiva's vahan (vehicle) is the bull, but the bull is also a source of food for the tiger, which is Durga's vahan," he explained.

"The rat and the snake have no relationship of friendship. But the rat is the vahan of Ganesh while the snake is one of the weapons that Durga carries. The peacock and snake have a relationship of animosity, but the peacock is Kartikeya's vahan."

Eventually, he clearly stated: "This combination of disparate forces means that society has to admit to itself the reality of living together."

The President's emphasis on the need to maintain social harmony, tolerance and co-existence was unmistakable. The Prime Minister, on the other hand, sounded cautious, cryptic, even opportunistic.

The unprecedented protests by writers, the recent killings of Dalits in Haryana and Union minister VK Singh's disparaging comments on the latter have dented the BJP's prospects in the ongoing Bihar polls, where Modi is the star campaigner. His brief message, at most, sounds like an attempt to salvage this electoral campaign.

Denting PM's own image

This resistance to red-flagging intolerance threatens to hurt the Prime Minister in the near future, if not haunt him for a long time to come. Opposition parties are not only using this as a stick to beat the BJP with in Bihar, they are exploiting it to dent the image of the PM himself.

Speaking to Catch, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh said: "Mere words don't suffice. The PM is a man of transparent insincerity."

However, Ramesh chose not to respond when asked what does the Congress has to say about its own sincerity, given that two of the recent killings took place in Congress-ruled Karnataka - that of Kalburgi and Bajrang Dal member Prashanth Poojary.

Not red-flagging intolerance has given the opposition a chance to dent the PM's own image

The CPI(M)'s Mohammad Salim said the PM's remarks were a case of too little, too late.

"He should have spoken the very next day," Salim said, referring to the Dadri incident, adding that the PM has been forced to say these words following the writers' protests.

Salim said "just a philosophical sermon" is not expected from a Prime Minister who boasts of possessing a "56-inch chest".

"We expect action," he asserted, adding that those responsible for the acts of violence were no longer the fringe element but the PM's own "colleagues in Parliament and in the Cabinet that he leads."

Salim said in the absence of action against these elements, the PM risked being looked upon not as 'pradhan sevak', but as a 'pradhan swayamsevak'.

JD(U) general secretary KC Tyagi said, "We never expected good words from the PM and his party in the first place, but expected him to at least break his silence. However, he failed us even on this count."

Tyagi further noted: "In reality, communal elements are the BJP's vote bank."

Pressed for an example, he added: "People like Giriraj Singh, who asked openly Modi's critics to go to Pakistan, and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, who called those who don't subscribe to their ideology as 'haraamzaade' (bastards), are already feeling encouraged. People like Sangeet Som, Sakshi Maharaj and Sanjeev Balyan are having the time of their lives. Will they listen to anyone?"

RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha said the PM's words and actions were now miles apart. Recalling that the PM had called for a 'moratorium on communal violence' in his Independence Day speech in 2014, Jha said: "did he impose a moratorium on Sangeet Som, Sanjeev Balyan, Sadhvi Prachi and Yogi Adityanath?

"The PM's address from the ramparts of the Red Fort had indicated his government's commitment to peace and a stand against communalism, but his private commitment to the same is lacking."

Intent needed

Nearly two months have elapsed since Kalburgi was killed, while nearly a month has passed since Akhlaq was lynched.

In many ways, the Prime Minister has already missed the bus. Yet, he might still be to able to salvage the situation if he sends out a strong signal against intolerance. He has many means at his disposal to do so. He only needs intent.

First published: 27 October 2015, 12:15 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.