When Modi’s Mann Ki Baat goes mute

As law and order crumbles in Manipur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces backlash for his silence on the crisis. But for him, this is not a first.

Published : Jul 10, 2023 14:43 IST - 11 MINS READ

Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the concluding programme of the centenary celebrations of Gita Press, in Gorakhpur on July 7.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the concluding programme of the centenary celebrations of Gita Press, in Gorakhpur on July 7. | Photo Credit: ANI

For over two months, Manipur has been locked in a violent Meitei-Kuki conflict, experiencing a near complete breakdown of law and order. Yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not commented on the volatile situation. “I am really upset. Why is our Prime Minister still absent? Why hasn’t he spoken a single word? My people are burning and dying,” said Colonel Shantikumar Sapam (retd), breaking down while speaking to the media. A video of the colonel, who served in the Assam Regiment, has gone viral on social media.

Modi has made frequent public appearances in the past two months. He campaigned for the BJP in Karnataka, visited the site of the Odisha rail accident, travelled to the US, and even rode the metro in New Delhi. He has offered to broker peace between Ukraine and Russia; last year he had talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on multiple occasions, urging both countries to resolve their armed conflict through dialogue and diplomacy.

Now questions are being raised as to why he has not visited the north-eastern State in turmoil or issued any statement. “I wish not to see (any more) pictures and video clips of churches being burnt, brutal killings, and violence of all kinds, regardless of gender and age... Many lives have been lost... those victims are my kin... my own blood. Should we quieten the situation by just being silent?... I wish (and) pray that the central (government), on humanitarian grounds, lend us an immediate helping hand,” Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, a BJP ally, said on Twitter on July 4.

He has repeatedly requested financial assistance of Rs 10 crore from the Central government to take care of the internally displaced persons in the wake of the unrest. With no response from the Centre, the State’s Home Department has appealed to MLAs, government employees, central PSUs, and banks operating in the State to make donations.

Also Read | Mayhem in Manipur: The State burns while the Centre looks away

Incidentally, Modi used to mock his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, calling him “Maunmohan Singh” when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat and had started to project himself as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general election. After becoming Prime Minister, Modi has used various platforms, both online and offline, to establish himself as an effective communicator. From election rallies to inauguration ceremonies, TV screens to social media and radio, in addition to public connect programmes like Chai Pe Charcha and Mann Ki Baat, Modi can be seen everywhere.

However, unlike Manmohan Singh, Modi has refrained from holding press conferences, except for one in 2019 when he appeared before the media at the BJP’s headquarters in Delhi in May 2019, alongside Amit Shah. Nevertheless, Modi did not take any questions during that press conference. It was only last month in the US that Prime Minister Modi responded to media queries. In 2018, former PM Singh, while taking a potshot at Modi, had said, “People say I was a silent prime minister. I wasn’t the Prime Minister who was afraid of talking to the press. I met the press regularly, and on every foreign trip I undertook, I had a press conference on return.”

Modi’s silence on the Manipur crisis is not an aberration, though. From a malicious campaign against Mahatma Gandhi to gruesome crimes against women, deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, the farmers’ movement, demonetisation, and the Galwan clashes, he has faced criticism for being uncommunicative. There are several occasions when Prime Minister Modi chose to maintain radio silence while the country wanted to hear from him. Here’s a low-down of those.

Campaign against Mahatma Gandhi

“In Gandhi, we have the best teacher to guide us,” Modi wrote in an op-ed titled “Why India and the World Needs Gandhi,” published in The New York Times in October 2019. “From uniting those who believe in humanity to furthering sustainable development and ensuring economic self-reliance, Gandhi offers solutions to every problem,” he elaborated.

Whenever Modi goes abroad, he invariably pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi and talks about his ideals. However, closer to home, his party leaders, including national spokespersons and parliamentarians, openly express their aversion for Mahatma Gandhi. Only on one occasion in May 2019, Modi reacted when Sadhvi Pragya insulted Mahatma Gandhi by describing his assassin, Nathuram Godse, as a true patriot. “I will never be able to forgive Pragya Thakur for insulting Mahatma Gandhi,” he had said. But it seems to have had little effect on his party leaders. Routinely, on TV debates and in speeches, they continue to lampoon and demean the father of the nation. However, neither he nor his party president has issued any directives to party leaders, instructing them to refrain from disrespecting Mahatma Gandhi.

Question of Hindu Rashtra

In December 2017, Anantkumar Hegde, BJP MP and the then Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, caused a major controversy when he declared that his party would soon change the Constitution, which upholds secularism. However, Prime Minister Modi did not react at all, and he remains silent as his leaders and ministers continue with their anti-Constitution statements.

Also Read | Betrayal of Indian nationalism

“People keep talking about the Constitution’s basic structure and how it cannot be tinkered with,” said Satya Pal Singh Baghel, Minister of State for Law and Justice in May. He added: “The basic structure of this nation is that of Akhand Bharat Hindu Rashtra before 1192.” Similarly, in April, the Maharashtra BJP tweeted a picture of Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with a caption that read: “India was a Hindu Rashtra, it is a Hindu Rashtra and will remain as such.” In March, BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said: “Whatever was left of India after independence and Partition in 1947, that is Hindu Rashtra.”

At a protest against cow vigilantism and atrocities on Muslims, in New Delhi on February 24.

At a protest against cow vigilantism and atrocities on Muslims, in New Delhi on February 24. | Photo Credit: ARUN SANKAR/AFP

Lynchings and hate crimes

In August 2016, amid widespread outrage in the issue of lynchings, Modi made a dramatic appeal to cow vigilantes to attack or shoot him instead of targeting Dalits. Since then, he has not spoken out against the continuing targeted violence against Muslims and Dalits in several States. In fact, Jayant Sinha, the then Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation, had felicitated the people who had lynched Alimuddin Ansari in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district in 2017.

Many BJP leaders have been caught on camera justifying lynchings. During the anti-CAA movement, speaking at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi on December 22, 2019, PM Modi, while referring to those protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, said: “Thrash my effigy with shoes to the content of your heart... burn my effigy, but don’t burn public property of the country... Vent your anger towards me...” After the rally, his dedicated supporters were seen shouting slogans on the roads, “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maro salon ko” (shoot the traitors).

Similarly, the then Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur and the Lok Sabha MP Parvesh Sahib Singh were also seen instigating violence, calling for shooting the “traitors” in public rallies in Delhi. However, despite the communal violence that eventually broke out in Delhi, Modi remained quiet. He only appealed for peace and brotherhood after 20 people had already been killed. But he did not address the comments made by his party leaders.

Chinese incursions

On television, Modi spoke extensively about how he planned and monitored the surgical strike inside Pakistan following the 2019 Pulwama terrorist attack. However, when it came to the Galwan clash at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh in June 2020, which claimed the lives of 20 soldiers, including the Commanding Officer of the 16th Bihar Regiment, Modi maintained a long silence. A few days after the incident, he told the nation through a video appearance: “Neither anyone entered our territory nor has any post been taken over by them.”

Incidentally, several ground reports contradict this assertion. Local tribal pastoral communities have been denied access to camp in the forward areas along the LAC in recent years. In fact, a research paper by a superintendent of police in Leh, presented at the annual conference of senior cops from central armed police forces and central police organisations in January last year in New Delhi, stated that of the 65 patrolling points from the Karakoram Pass to Chumur, “our presence is lost in 26 PPs (PP no. 5-17, 24-32, 37, 51, 52, 62) due to restrictive or no patrolling”. Modi is under fire from the opposition for giving a clean chit to China.

Farmers’ deaths

Over 700 farmers died during the year-long agitation against the three controversial farm laws. When Prime Minister Modi announced the repeal of the laws on November 19, 2021, he did not acknowledge the sacrifice of the farmers who died during the agitation. Instead, he apologised to the country for withdrawing the three agricultural laws, saying: “Maybe something was lacking in our tapasya (dedication). We could not explain the truth, as clear as the light of the diya, to some of our farmer brothers.”

Even though he condoled the deaths in a road accident in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki, he did not say anything about the protesting farmers who were allegedly run over and killed by the son of Union Minister for Home, Ajay Mishra Teni, in October 2021.

Customers waiting outside an SBI branch to withdraw money, in Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram district on December 20, 2016.

Customers waiting outside an SBI branch to withdraw money, in Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram district on December 20, 2016. | Photo Credit: L. Balachandar

Demonetisation deaths

More than 100 people reportedly died while waiting before banks and ATMs in the rush to retreive cash in the wake of demonetisation. Former Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley admitted in Rajya Sabha in December 2018 that four persons died due to reasons linked to the sudden demonetisation move in 2016.

Although the efficacy of the government’s move is still debated, PM Modi has yet to acknowledge these deaths in a public speech, tweet, or Mann Ki Baat. Throughout the course of demonetisation, his government kept changing the objective, from wiping out fake currency notes to ending black money and creating a digital economy.

Black money

The BJP came to power riding the wave of the anti-corruption movement under the banner of India Against Corruption. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi promised multiple times to bring back the black money stashed abroad by Indians. Now he is increasingly being attacked by opposition parties for remaining silent on this issue.

On February 13 this year, Union Minister of State for Finance Pankaj Chaudhary told the Lok Sabha: “There is no official estimation or methodology to define/measure the amount of black money in the country. However, the government had commissioned a study, inter alia, on the estimation of unaccounted income and wealth inside and outside the country through the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), and the National Institute of Financial Management (NIFM).”

The Modi government is under fire for not appointing the anti-graft ombudsman Lokpal and for diluting the Right to Information Act, which has allegedly weakened the legal framework needed to fight corruption.

Crimes against women

“Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save the girl child, educate the girl child) is a slogan of the BJP. However, there have been several incidents of gruesome crimes against women and the girl child that have shaken the conscience of the nation, but Prime Minister Modi has not uttered a word. For instance, he has chosen to look the other way in the determined protest by wrestlers who have accused Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of intimidation and sexual assault. Singh is a BJP Lok Sabha MP and continues to head the federation despite the Delhi Police filing two FIRs against him following a Supreme Court direction.

Modi condemned the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district and the rape of another minor girl in Unnao only after facing widespread public criticism for his silence. In the Unnao case, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the then BJP MLA from the area, was convicted in the rape case and subsequently expelled from the party. In Kathua, two BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government had led a rally supporting the accused persons, who were later convicted, with several demonstrators holding the tricolour in their hands.

COVID-19 deaths

Modi has also been criticised for the alleged undercounting of deaths due to the COVID pandemic. The mishandling of the pandemic began with the sudden imposition of the lockdown, which severely affected migrant labourers. Millions of them were left stranded on highways without any assistance from his government. Although he expressed anguish over the death of 16 migrant workers on a railway track in Maharashtra, as they were reportedly denied permission to walk on the road, he remained silent even after thousands of bodies were seen floating in the Ganga and several buried on both banks of the river. Addressing party workers on the BJP’s 40th foundation day last year, Modi claimed that his government’s proactive efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus were appreciated globally.

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