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What’s with Modi’s silence?
Saturday July 26, 2014 4:42 AM, Aijaz Zaka Syed

Silence is the virtue of fools, counseled Sir Francis Bacon. Throughout the long, silent era that was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s time in office, one longed to hear the good Singh speak extempore, for once without consulting his script and holding his audience’s eye. It never happened.

Prime Minister Modi

If his long pauses were far from pregnant, when he did speak, or rather read dutifully and sonorously from what his speechwriters wrote for him, you could never accuse him of being excessively emotional, let alone suitably melodramatic even in most stressful of situations. You could depend on the good Singh to be always reassuringly restrained and stolid. A virtue obviously much prized and cherished by the Congress and its equally staid and unadventurous mother-and-son leadership.

Indeed, none of the holy trinity of the grand old party — Prime Minister Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her ever confused son — were seen as very communicative or comfortable around the ever nosey and noisy Indian media.

All three — and by example the whole hapless flock — jealously guarded their silence even as crises and political storms were breaking all around them on a daily basis.

Silence — enigmatic, often confounding and exasperating silence — defined the 10 years, especially the last few years, of the Congress-led UPA rule. But silence is hardly golden when people are looking for answers and explanation from their leaders. Of course, the overwhelming smell of sleaze and spate of scams, coupled with the clever communal polarization of the last few years, did have a critical role to play in the decimation of the Congress and company.

But if there’s one single factor that helped Narendra Modi land himself and the Parivar a decisive and defining victory, it was without doubt the deafening silence of the Congress leadership.

The ubiquitous, ever talkative, ever verbose, ever tweeting, ever sharing and Facebooking Modi appeared as a gift from above to a bite-starved nation. Especially when an overwhelming majority of the country is young and compulsively communicative. Like the young elsewhere, they spend most of their time in cyberspace or glued to their smartphones, sharing every tiny nugget of their exciting lives online every minute of the day.

How a 62-year old semi-literate man was able to establish instant rapport with this information-hungry, communication crazy young generation while the young, Western educated Gandhi scion failed to connect is something that still remains a mystery for the Congress-wallahs. But is it really a mystery?

After long years of grating silence in Lutyens’ Delhi, Modi’s love for his own voice, his oratory in the fashion of inimitable Vajpayee, never passing an opportunity to pontificate on virtually everything under the sun came as a refreshing change for a nation craving to hear its leaders speak forcefully and effectively for once. And I say this as someone who has had no love lost for the man from Gujarat.

During the long and grueling campaign, Modi was virtually everywhere, traveling the length and breadth of the country, and earning himself a record of addressing the largest number of public meetings. His face was perpetually plastered on our television screens and leapt at you every morning from newspaper front pages.

“My God, kitna bolta hai yeh shakhs,” my wife would often complain.

Let’s give the devil his due though. The guy had the gift of the gab, even if you did not always agree with him. And he always had something to say, even if it was about the same saffron-tinted dreams that the Parivar has worked all these years to realize.

As a friendly journalist noted, it was finally great to have a leader who could speak and connect with the people. A militant follower of Modi who obsessively trolls me has convinced himself that his hero is the greatest world statesman and communicator the world has ever seen.

Well, this is precisely what multitudes of diehard fans thought about Fuhrer as well. That aside, why has the great communicator and world statesman abruptly fallen silent since he took office though? He was totally and embarrassingly out of his depth at the recent BRICS summit in Brazil, almost shaking and perpetually shuffling feet during his uninspiring speech. And this had nothing to do with his comfort level with Queen’s English. It’s something that comes from good education and breeding, something that the RSS which teaches martial arts and even use of arms to its members is yet to offer its pracharaks.

But you cannot hold that against Modi. Men with little education and experience have proven capable leaders. What is disconcerting is the new-found silence of the man who loved to mock his predecessor as ‘Maun Maun Singh’ (Silent, Manmohan Singh).

After speaking non-stop for nearly a year like there’s no tomorrow — he would go “bhaiyyo aur bahno” at the drop of a hat — the cat seems to have got his tongue. Which in a way is a relief. It’s like calm after the storm.

However, there are times when leaders are not only expected to speak, it’s a dereliction of duty if they do not. At times like these silence is criminal. The Congress-led UPA government was repeatedly guilty of it and you know what happened to it.

Within days of Modi’s grand, imperial style inauguration, watched around the world with keen interest, Mohsin Sheikh, a young Pune techie, was bludgeoned to death by BJP’s allies. We did not hear a single word in condemnation from the prime minister. There has been a surge in crimes against women across the country. A BJP MP and minister in his own Cabinet is accused of rape. Anti-Muslim violence in Assam continues unabated with more killings reported earlier this month. Uttar Pradesh, from where Modi was elected to Parliament, has been repeatedly rocked by communal riots, thanks to the antics of BJP lawmakers from the state.

People like Sangeet Som, known for their role in Muzaffarnagar pogrom, have been on the rampage doing what they do best. Bihar BJP leader Giriraj Singh who threatened to send every Modi critic to Pakistan has been breathing fire against Muslims all over again despite a police case against him.

Another BJP leader from Kashmir, a minister in Modi’s Cabinet no less, has outraged the already alienated Kashmiris by promising to abrogate the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir. There are others who have been clamoring for the imposition of Uniform Civil Code and building of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, the issues that the BJP was supposed to have put on the back burner.

But we are yet to see the prime minister, who promised “good governance and development for all” ad nauseam throughout his campaign, discipline these loyal soldiers.

The latest incident of a bunch of Shiv Sena MPs force-feeding a fasting Muslim staffer in Delhi has outraged the entire country. What does the prime minister think of this exemplary conduct of his allies, members of Parliament no less?

All these incidents point to an emerging pattern. Clearly, this is how India is going to be ‘governed and developed’ now. Ashok Singhal of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, BJP’s ideological twin which paved the way for the party’s rise and rise through its long and sustained Ayodhya movement in the 80s and 90s, offered a peek into the shape of things to come in an interview with Hindustan Times.

Describing the BJP victory as a “big blow to Muslims” he warned the community that it was time to learn to behave. Hailing Modi as an “ideal swayamsevak” who would deliver on the Hindutva agenda unlike Vajpayee, Singhal said it was time for Muslims to learn their lessons: “Muslims must learn to respect Hindu sentiments. If they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?”

He advised Muslims to give up their claim on the Babri Masjid and mosques like Kashi and Mathura that the Sangh claims to be temples. “If they don’t accept it, they should be prepared for further Hindu consolidation. It has happened at the center, it will happen in other states.”

Talking of the unprecedented mobilization by the Sangh Parivar during the polls, Singhal declared: “We worked because it was our duty. The important thing is the agenda must be fulfilled.” Yes, the Agenda. How could we ever forget it? And who would stop the Parivar from pushing through with it when it has all its chosen men in the right places. So whether Modi speaks now or chooses to remain silent, the actions would speak for themselves. ‘Ache din’ have finally arrived.

[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer. The above article is first published by Arab News]




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