The Alibis of a Chief Executive

In India, an entire industry is busy creating excuses to defend the Prime Minister from various misdemeanours by his associates

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: PTI

Amongst democracies, only in India is it possible that an elected Prime Minister has a set of fool-proof alibis that protect him from taking responsibility for the events taking place in various parts of the country. Our federal structure, the actions of so-called ‘fringe elements’, or unruly coalition partners – one or the other is deployed time and again to insulate the chief executive of the country from all blame. Therefore, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks up only to ask how the Centre is responsible for the shameful events in Dadri or Mumbai, it comes as a surprise to none.

Many analysts have rightly compared US President Barack Obama’s outright condemnations of every event of gun violence with his good friend Narendra Modi’s obfuscatory remarks that came after a long spell of studied silence. Obama has scant influence over the states, and has been constantly besieged by a virulent opposition. His political opponents have not only made constant personal attacks, but also blocked key legislation at every opportunity. Now the reasons for political opposition to Narendra Modi in India are entirely different, but surely, there are lessons he can learn from Obama’s story. The duty of a chief executive is to be a statesman and do what is right. If Modi keeps silent, or indulges in blame-shifting, this is telling only of how compromised the office of the Prime Minister is because of the man who occupies it.

One doesn’t have to look as far as the US to find models of public propriety. In a young republic, way back in 1956, Lal Bahadur Shastri tendered his resignation, accepting moral responsibility for the successive rail accidents in Mehboob Nagar and Ariyalur. This is the kind of moral certitude that would be met with derision today. Even demands to fix responsibility on individuals are doggedly stone-walled.

In India, an entire industry is busy creating and waving alibis to defend the Prime Minister from various misdemeanours by his associates. Thus, when the Chief Minister of Haryana, M L Khattar candidly lays down conditions under which Muslims can live in India as Muslims, we are urged to overlook the fact that he belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party and has been a life-long member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). We were promised a no-nonsense chief executive who would put disruptive hardline elements in their place. So far, the only signs we have seen of this has been in the dogged pursuit of activist NGOs and fact-seeking RTI activists.

Narendra Modi has not only asserted his membership of the Sangh in the past but also played his part in agitating crowds against Muslims over various issues such as population control, cow slaughter, terrorism, etc. When a mob attacks a man and murders him on a patently Hindutva-wadi agenda, we are advised to ask questions of the chief minister of the state, since law and order is a state subject. When RTI activists and protesting artists are probed by the Intelligence Bureau, it is still not clear who should be held responsible. When the Union Minister for Tourism and Culture, Mahesh Sharma talks of ‘cultural cleansing’ of institutions, what he thinks girls can or cannot do, and finally, defends the mob that murdered a man in Dadri, we are expected to look the other way and not ask the Prime Minister any tough questions. And when questions are asked – as they should be – the alibis are lined up immediately.

What good is a ‘strong’ Prime Minister who cannot control a member of his own cabinet? While on the subject, we must know who exactly the Prime Minister can control. Right now, it appears as if all that the Prime Minister can control are a set of senior bureaucrats, and the schedule of his foreign trips. For everything else, we must look elsewhere. Where else are we to look at, when we were promised this would be a Modi sarkar, not a BJP sarkar and definitely not a RSS sarkar?

Meanwhile, the grand vision of development increasingly appears to be a mirage, an El Dorado. Here perhaps the Prime Minister cannot be directly held responsible for the slow pace of change. Why then, did some of us choose to buy into the exaggerated promises? Is it fair to at least expect that the Prime Minister and his team would busy themselves in the task of addressing the intractable problems of development facing us today? The alibi presented here is the 60 years of misrule by the Prime Minister’s predecessors. How long will this continue to wash?

It is then a success of miraculous proportions that not just the legion of followers, but many otherwise right-thinking citizens have bought into the alibis that Modi hides behind. The credit for cultivating this mass base, and a sprinkling of public intellectuals sympathetic to the Prime Minister and his ideology must go to both Narendra Modi and the RSS. But ever so often, they appear in the public eye, to be defending the indefensible. Surely our politically astute Prime Minister must be aware that you cannot fool all the people all the time? After all, he just has to look up his own speeches in the run-up to May 2014 to realise that no alibi can last forever.

Suvojit Chattopadhyay is a development sector consultant, currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. You can find his blog here and tweets from @suvojitc

  • anandashtekar

    Yes, PM is believer in concept of true federalism therefore Dadri lynching is state matter and Center is helpless. You may ask his comments on FDI and his untiring efforts to attract it through his endures by visiting places out of own country.

    • Neofreedom

      Few issues are beyond ‘federalism’, this is one of them.

      Not to speak about a death caused by the political environment created by BJP and its allies is simply shrugging your responsibilities. Moreover other BJP/RSS people had a lot to say about this issue, sort of justifying the act. He still kept mum.
      As far as attracting FDI, this issue shamed India on an international scale, certainly not a good sign.

      Stop making lame excuses.


    State Governments just aren’t independent. In one piece written by Gopal Subramanyam in The Hindu on NJAC Constitutionaltiy, he argues that High Courts and even District Courts should be considered as a block, rather than being subordinate to SC. Similarly, State Chief Ministers should dispense with the hallucination of getting elected as Prime Minister, as happens with UP Politics. I look to Madhya Pradesh, there Shivraj has had no such hopes and that’s why he has been favoured by electorate.
    Indians need to develop a devotion for their state if we have to move ahead in terms of law and order.
    So, in present context, it would be wrong for PM to pass the blame, because the federal machinery does not exist in reality.
    To some extent, Media Groups also bear responsibility for focussing too much on New Delhi. This Centralization needs to be dispensed with!

  • Neelakanta Iyer

    In no other part of the world Law&order issues are touted as Communal issues by the Media. And no where else do writers jump the gun to condemn the Chief executive based on such lies. Let’s take one by one 1.Church robberies in Delhi. These were open & shut cases of robberies but the Media went to town declaring them as attack on minorities.
    2.Murder of a nun in West Bengal. Again a communal angle was given by the Media in a murder case which was proved soon as the handiwork of two muslims from Bangladesh.
    3.Murder of an elderly man in Dadri in UP. It was a case of mob lynching of a guy who stole a cow & calf. Media twisted it as killing of a Muslim over beef.
    4. Horrible incident of two children burnt. Looking at the caste of the victims, Media tomtommed the same as attack on Dalits whereas it was a family feud.
    5 . continuing in the same vein the vicious Media twisted the remark by V K SINGH who had stated that even if some one stoned a fog, Blame is put on the PM. They reported that V K SINGH had called Dalits as dogs.


    A lot of the intolerance and fundamentalism has been initiated and tacitly encouraged by Modi , right from his days as Gujarat CM.

    The only point is how does he change his face during his Mann Ki Baat , his interaction with children on Children’s Day and his foreign tours ? At all other times , he cannot be distinguished from his more rabid colleagues.

    In all respects , it is he who has brought down the standard of election campaigning with his personalized vitriol.

  • Sithanthi Alfred

    ”defending the indefensible”,absolutely right! The killers and enemies of Mahatma Gandhi are being resurrected as heroes and Gods they are aggressively defending Nethaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s revolutionary acts and they are soon going to be celebrated in contrast to Gandhi’s non violence ,ahimsa and Satyagraha.The country has elected a very weak PM as the face of ‘development’,now the entire country knows what ‘development’ means,its the RSS version and not what the dictionary says it means.The PM is going by the RSS’s saffron book ,page by page,it is indeed the corner stone of NDA’s idea of Governance,divide and rule,kill,lynch and defend the indefensible.