PM Modi And His Silence: Is Our Leader Incapable Of Empathy?

In his recent speech on the occasion of Independence Day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said many ‘great’ things about the nation, independence and Kashmir, however, most of it was devoid of any emotion or empathy towards the people of Kashmir during one of the most testing times for the state as it continued to be in a lockdown in the aftermath of the government’s decision to scrap Article 370.

Modi’s indifference or deadpan speech which focused on ‘restoring past glory’ rather than addressing the plights of millions of people due to the ongoing lockdown is not surprising though. Maintaining silence or delivering flat, superficial speeches over some of the most heated, concerning issues has remained his ruling style for the most part of his tenure.

On the night of September 28 2015, in a village in Gautam Budh Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh, a mob barged into 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq’s house with sticks and swords. They assaulted Akhlaq, hitting him with sticks, bricks and even a nearby sewing machine, before dragging him out of the house and beating him to death. According to reports, the mob consisting of local villagers and members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, had killed Akhlaq over rumours that he and his family had eaten a cow.

This incident shook the nation. People of the country, including the Muslim community, hopefully, and nervously waited for their elected leader, Narendra Modi, to comfort them. Nothing came from Modi nor his office. Not even a tweet. Quite mystifying for a nation whose PM believes in posting every little thing on his Twitter, right from Yoga poses to his brand promotions.

Eight days post the incident, Modi said ‘something’ about the incident, mostly referring to a speech already delivered by the then President Pranab Mukherjee.

After being profusely criticized by national and international media, Modi said, addressing an election rally in Bihar, “I have said it earlier too. Hindus should decide whether to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims have to decide whether to fight Hindus or poverty. Both need to fight poverty together.”

As if this wasn’t an issue of a heinous hate-crime against a particular religion fueled by the extreme Hindu ideology, but two kids fighting over who gets to bat first in a mohalla (locality) cricket match. The statement was widely criticized, and labeled as ‘at least something is better than nothing.’

Three years later, another incident made it to the headlines when on June 23, 2018, three days before India celebrated Eid, a teenage boy Junaid Khan was stabbed to death by a group of men on a moving train. He was going home to a small village in Haryana, after shopping for new clothes in New Delhi for Eid, accompanied by his brother and a couple of friends. The mob mocked their skullcaps and taunted them for eating beef, before stabbing them.

The first time in the history of India, hundreds of Muslims offered their Eid prayers while wearing a black band as a symbol of protest against the killing of the teen. It was a silent protest to highlight the growing hate-crimes against Muslims in the country, which have skyrocketed since Modi took office in 2014.

Even when Modi has chosen to speak about the issue of beef lynching in the country, he has been careful about not to refer to anyone incident in particular. He doesn’t express any solidarity with the minorities, he doesn’t explicitly condemn the culprits. Every single time, he stops short of saying that the vigilantes should be prosecuted and punished, instead ‘requesting’ state governments to prepare “dossiers” to keep the cow protectors under control like they were not murderers, just teenage boys gone rogue.

It’s always the same story. Too little, too late.

Last week, the Indian government under the leadership of Narendra Modi, unilaterally breached the fundamental conditions of the Instrument of Accession, by which Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India in 1947. In anticipation of this, at midnight on August 4, 2019, the state took all of Kashmir under seize, conducting a massive military lockdown.

Approximately seven million Kashmiris have been since then barricaded in their homes, with no Internet or phone connectivity, leaving them entirely besieged, confused, frightened and furious by the seismic events of the past week. According to reports, people in Kashmir are being beaten up by the military forces even if they ask permission to get basic necessities like milk.

As the news broke out in India, right-wing leaders and supporters indulged in vulgar celebrations, while people of Kashmir were being stripped of their human rights and were being forced to live in complete isolation from the rest of the world. The state has been trying its best to make it look like the people in Kashmir are celebrating and rejoicing the decision, when in fact, multiple independent journalists from all around the world have confirmed that the majority of the Kashmiris are living in fear, military harassment and are struggling to even do everyday chores.

There have been multiple reports of the military firing pellets on the protesters in Kashmir, however, the center has yet again denied all reports, labelling them as stray incidents.

If you look at Modi’s history and his style of leading the nation, all this is foreseeable. Time and again, this government has failed to deliver words of comfort or empathy to the people of the state in the times of need, especially the minorities.

Right from the dramatic demonetisation decision where 100 people died due to poor planning and execution, and which the economists have described as a tragic decision for Indian economy, to the recent scrapping of Article 370 in Kashmir and the subsequent unconstitutional lockdown, among Modi’s long list of overtly-publicised and attractively-packaged decisions and policies, his blatant lack of empathy and the ability to comfort his people in times of crises is his biggest failure so far.

As a politician true to performance and theatrics, Modi is surprisingly incapable of even faking concern for the minorities of the country.

Ever since the emergence of Modi as the ultimate Hindu leader and the savior of the nation, there has been an alarming uptick in the number of hate-related crimes in India. Between May 2015 and December 2018, almost 44 people — 36 of them Muslims — were killed in 12 Indian states, according to a global NGO, Human Rights Watch. In the same period, about 280 people sustained injuries in more than 100 such incidents across 20 states.

Not only is Modi’s unwillingness to address the uptick in violence baffling, but it is also an indication of the Prime Minister of our country lending tacit consent to street violence.

Narendra Modi first took charge of the office on May 26, 2014 and then on May 30, 2019, becoming the first prime minister outside of the Indian National Congress to win two consecutive terms with a full majority, and the second one to complete five years in office after Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The state’s inkling towards establishing India as a Hindu Rashtra is neither subtle nor masked. A proposal for the controversial Uniform Civil Code was a part of the BJP’s election manifesto in 2014, while his winning speech after the 2019 elections, was a disciplined attempt to establish himself as a Hindu ascetic, a Karmayogi, who believes in renouncing materialistic possessions, not for personal liberation but to serve the nation’s less fortunate.

While on one hand, Modi has time and again, told the world, in no sophisticated words that he only wants to serve the nation and he is a ‘faqir’  (technically, an ascetic who lives on alms, but used mostly in a Hindu and Muslim connotation, i.e. one would not call a Buddhist monk a faqir), on the other hand, his passivity in times of crises such as the recent Kashmir situation speaks volumes about how he actually feels about the state and its people.

It is not difficult to comprehend that the majority of the decisions of the state whether it is the air strikes on Pakistan after Pulwama or the demonetization, have been geared towards desperate electoral gain in various elections. These are political maneuvers to increase the unrest and despondency among the people, to ensure that after the storms have settled, he can emerge as the savior, the only solution to resolve the crisis, bypassing social divides and institutional niceties. Not just Kashmir, but if you closely observe, there has been a systematic attempt to push all institutions to the verge of crisis, starting with the judiciary, institutions of higher education and various investigative agencies.

Modi also prefers silence as it propagates the belief among the innocent followers that he is doing something ‘important’ to address these issues, but history is a testament, that he just doesn’t care enough.

No one disputes that a state like Kashmir where lakhs of people have been killed and the economy lies in ruins, needed change. This was an issue that required to be addressed. But delivering absent speeches void of any emotion but celebration and victory when 7 million of our own people are in lockdown is preposterous. Is it unfair to expect more from a leader who touts himself as the ultimate devotee of the state?

It is also interesting to see that when five major states of India are experiencing floods, millions of livestock has been killed, and thousands have been displaced, and the entire population of Kashmir has been cut off from the rest of the world, Modi has chosen to appear on Bear Grylls’ show, has touted in a news channel about the ‘investment’ opportunities in Kashmir, tweeted about a quiz, and has now left for a two-day visit to Bhutan.

As the world watches in horror the slash-and-burn of Indian democracy, the government takes sturdy steps to establish a fascist state at the cost of stripping away human rights and dignity of its own people.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

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