Trigger Warning: Mention of rape
“The wise man knows when to keep silent. Only the fool tells what he knows.” –
Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants
It is the year 2013, and there is a “decisive, dynamic and development-oriented” leader climbing the ladder to the most important office of the country. While his speeches seem to be convincing lakhs across India of his invisible competence and visible bigotry, his army of online trolls spews hundreds of memes every day.
These jokes deride Manmohan Singh, the current Prime Minister, on his position as a placeholder for the Gandhi family, and his “quiet” attitude towards a range of critical issues. In contrast, the “dynamic” Modi is portrayed as the loud orchestra, perfectly positioned to lead MMS out of Raisina Hill.
Well, it has been more than six years since his entry into the vacant office, and his voice has seemed to fade off in the background of his party’s extravagant display of Islamophobia, bigotry, and poorly implemented economic decisions.
The PM’s silence on issues, and no, Mann Ki Baat doesn’t count, like the COVID-induced migrant exodus, the harmful nature of the EIA notification, and the Chinese incursion, among other things, has belittled his image from that of a “roaring NaMO” to being compared with MMS himself. Unfortunately, Gaiman’s analysis of Modi’s silence falls flat, because he might be silent, but he definitely does not know when to speak up. Atleast, not if he actually cared about the country’s constitutional values.
Indians, both offline and online, have been rife with outrage against a number of Modi-government “development-oriented” bills and actions. From the uninformed “demonitisation” to the poorly executed “GST,” to the anti-democratic “EIA,” to the Islamophobic “CAA,” and to the problematic farm and labour laws, the Centre has failed to ease public concern over a range of issues.
In case some of you need to be reminded of this, spewing villainizing rhetoric and claiming protestors to be misguided, uninformed, or plain maliced, is not conversing. Conducting a weekly radio-session to reiterate propaganda about the protestors’ misguided approach is not conversing. Ignoring flawed legislation and gaslighting survivors into its benefits is not conversing.
In a real democracy, it is the Press that holds the Centre accountable. Now, ignoring the mess that Indian news media is, it is also the Centre’s responsibility, including its leader, to inform the public of its deeds and its shortcomings. While the BJP and its watchdogs have loved to portray the former Prime Minister as a silent puppet to the Gandhis’ whims, the current PM’s wilful ignorance to ease public paranoia and apprehension seems normal to them. I wonder why.
In the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, the then UPA government had brought in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Bill, 2008 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill (later, act), 2008. The UAPA is a draconian piece of legislation that was created in 1967 and has taken multiple forms under multiple governments, replacing and building on the likes of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985 (TADA).
While the BJP and its allies have “warned of the misuse” of the UAPA at multiple instances (like here and here), the current regime’s tendencies towards blatantly misusing the law have somehow escaped the sight of the roaring PM. Along with arrests of multiple “terror-inducing” activists like Umar Khalid, Anand Teltumbde and Sudha Bhardwaj, the Modi government has even tried to use the law to scare off citizens from mass-mailing the environment minister.
Although hypocrisy is not new to the Indian political scene, Modi’s silence on the issue has betrayed (or maybe, revealed?) his concern for the country’s ethos.
In 2019, India recorded over 88 rape cases every day, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). So, before you come at me for accusing the PM of his silence on this particular case, let me highlight a few aspects of the Hathras gang rape.
According to a fact-finding report by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), the police officers’ affiliation with the oppressor castes in Hathras and their inability and lack of willingness to execute an unbiased investigation was not a hidden fact.
For example, Uttar Pradesh ADG’s (Law and Order) public claims about the absence of rape, which have been debunked multiple times, clearly depict either his lack of knowledge about the procedures or his lack of decency regarding the victim’s dying declaration. Add to that the fact that the woman’s dead body was cremated in the dark of night, without proper consent from the family and under the pretence of avoiding “large-scale violence.”
It is this butchered administrative action and mangled investigation that warrants a response, let alone condemnation, from the country’s Commander-In-Chief. Additionally, the UP government did not hesitate booking Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Kerala, who was stopped on his way to Hathras, under UAPA.
Usually a fan of social media, even Modi’s Twitter lacked references to the Hathras rape, letting his audience merely guess the meaning of his silence.
At this point, it would be too basic of me to paint the sold-out picture of India’s news media. The “elite Lutyens’ media” and its attempts at fitting a farmer into a stereotypical category very obviously plays into the hands of the status quo. In the recent farm bill protests, their depiction of the farmers as “Khalistani,” “uneducated,” “anti-national” or “poor,” highlights the stereotypical lens through which they have reported on this issue. Similarly, the Indian media’s villainization of Muslims, both during the anti-CAA protests and through the portrayal of Tablighi Jamaat brings to the forefront the obvious allegiances of our news media.
While the PM didn’t hesitate to call out Congress as “a threat to free press,” his silence on the country’s performance on the Press Freedom Index, 2020, in which India’s rank fell to 142 out of 180 countries is worth observing. Although the index has faced criticism from multiple parties, it is India’s decline on the same parameters as each year that is a matter of concern. Well, at least for me, which is more than what I can say for the dynamic leader that is at the helm of the growth of our democracy.
Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh: four BJP-ruled states have recently been in news over their interest over “Love Jihad,” data for which still eludes our RTI offices. Basically a conspiracy theory created by Hindu nationalists, who claim the existence of a concerted effort on the part of Muslim men to mass convert Hindu women by marrying them, Love Jihad is just that: a conspiracy theory.
Expectedly though, as they seek the realisation of their bigoted agendas and more power, BJP has not relented from weaponising this conspiracy theory and even legitimising it in the form of an actual enforceable law. Now, before you ask me: “Why would the PM talk against something that his own party is doing?” let me present to you, exhibit A.
In November of this year, the Kerala government, led by CPI(M), passed an ordinance punishing anyone “making, expressing, publishing or disseminating” through any mode of communication “threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory” matter. Originally created to curb cyber crimes against women, the legislation received strong pushback, including from both CPI and CPI(M) members, because of its anti-freedom of expression tendencies. And guess what? The government, according to CPI(M) general secretary, Yechury, will be scrapping the ordinance.
Say what you may, the “spineless Commies” do seem to listen to the public and to their own “comrades.”
Before I am accused of being an anti-national myself, let me reiterate: I don’t expect the PM to talk about everything. Neither do I expect him to take my advice on what to talk about. But, for a democracy to function, and the world’s largest one at that too, its leaders must talk to its public; and its public must make the leaders listen. If that doesn’t happen, then either this is not a democracy, or they are not the public’s leaders.