There seems to be a pattern to how some political leaders are hardwired in their response to the requirements of power politics. Since India has one important state election or the other every year, the tendency to constantly address one’s voters has become a permanent feature of realpolitik.
But there may be extremely adverse or tragic situations which call for an instinctively human rather than a calculated power response. Prime Minister Narendra Modi clearly displayed a lack of natural human response when he broke his silence on the Manipur violence after nearly 80 days and spoke about the strip parading and gang rape of three Manipuri women.
His overall reaction may even be bordering on the lack of empathy in its manifest moral ambiguity over the overwhelming tragedy of Manipur. Modi expressed sadness and anger over the public humiliation and gang rape of the Manipuri women, but his overall statement was a loaded one which was essentially addressing power politics. Couldn’t there have been a pure human response from Modi on just this one occasion?
His mention of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh along with Manipur suggested that Modi was thinking about the Manipur tragedy even while weighing the BJP’s electoral prospects in the assembly elections later this year. Many political commentators, including some ardent supporters of the prime minister, have condemned the unedifying whataboutery in his statement on Manipur. More than anything, he showed an utter lack of sensitivity to the people of Manipur.
For once, Manipur would have desired a 100% focused, human response from the prime minister, which might have included a personal visit to the camps where over 60,000 displaced Manipuris still live.
Columnist Tavleen Singh in her Sunday column in The Indian Express has wondered why Modi is not able to show a timely response to such events and what is it that makes him resort to long spells of silence in the face of adversity. She recalls how the prime minister never responded to the first beef-related lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, which set off a chain of such mob lynching across North India.
Since then, Modi has clearly shown the proclivity to maintain silence over events which might be seen as negatively impacting his own image or the equilibrium of his power politics. Of course his silences are also meant to convey something to his ardent supporters. For instance, a recent statement of Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma that Muslim vendors were responsible for the vegetable price rise in the state is a dog whistle which Modi will prefer to remain silent about, notwithstanding his “sabka saath, sabka vikas” slogan repeated ad nauseam by his partymen. So Modi’s silences are as much a response to the requirements of power politics as his occasional ambivalent interventions like in the case of Manipur. But what gets lost in the process is a certain humanity and the associated human emotions that politicians should be possessing, presumably naturally.
For instance, such humanity was shown in the way Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi interacted with Nirbhaya’s family at a personal level. Subsequently, Rahul Gandhi kept in touch with the family and it was Nirbhaya’s father who revealed some time ago that Rahul had helped his son to graduate and become a pilot. You could call this a personal human response, as opposed to a purely political one.
When Tavleen Singh asked the prime minister in an interview why he wouldn’t make a public statement over tragic killings such as that of Mohammed Akhlaq, his response was if he started doing that, he would only have time to respond to such events. This is clearly not a convincing reply, because it still does not explain his studied and calculated silence on such a diverse set of issues as majoritarian mob lynchings, constant dog whistles against minorities by his own ministers, China flexing its muscles at the borders, women wrestlers demanding justice over sexual harassment or the unprecedented Manipur violence which threatens to tear asunder the social fabric of the state.
It is also to be noted that while the prime minister doesn’t find time to speak publicly on festering issues, he makes absolutely no compromise over his own image-enhancing events, whether it is the Sengol ceremony in Parliament or addressing the diaspora on foreign soil. That calendar doesn’t change, come what may. There is little doubt that at a purely human level, there is something fundamentally amiss in this pattern of behaviour.