POLITICS

Without Action To Back It Up, Modi's 'Mann Ki Baat' Is Just Words Without Bite

Zero tolerance in action.

28/08/2017 12:58 PM IST | Updated 28/08/2017 12:59 PM IST

The prime minister wanted to talk about festivals in his Mann ki Baat radio address. He wanted to talk about Samvatsari Parva for the Jains, Ganesh Chaturthi for the Hindus, Eid-ul-Zuha for the Muslims. But before he did any of that he talked about violence.

"In my address from the ramparts of the Red Fort, I had said that violence in the name of faith will not be tolerated, whether it is communal belief systems, whether it is subscribing to political ideologies, whether it is allegiance to a person or customs and traditions. No one has the right to take the law into one's own hands in the name of one's beliefs," he said.

He did not mention Haryana. He did not mention Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the man with whom he has a photo-op. But the implication was clear.

And it elicited praise. The Prime Minister who often maintains a judicious silence for weeks on issues such as these had spoken up and spoken uncharacteristically promptly. Anita Joshua points out in The Telegraph, "Rarely has the Prime Minister spoken about a contentious issue while it is on the boil, preferring instead to comment after the storm has died down."

But how strange to think that we have come to such a pass that we must appreciate the fact that an adept communicator like Modi has chosen to comment in a timely fashion about an issue as shocking as the rampant violence in Haryana.

But how strange to think that we have come to such a pass that we must appreciate the fact that an adept communicator like Modi has chosen to comment in a timely fashion about an issue as shocking as the rampant violence in Haryana. Surely that's fairly minimal when it comes to expectations.

However by alluding to his Independence Day address when he said violence in the name of faith would not be tolerated, the Prime Minister also signaled the limits of the power of his speech.

Modi can say it will not be tolerated (and said it more than once now) but what does it mean on the ground? Have the cow vigilantes disbanded and gone home? Do the followers of Ram Rahim seem chagrined? Has the Haryana government issued a mea culpa?

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
A room at Balluana railway station that was set afire by followers of Dera Sacha Sauda after conviction of dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in rape, on August 26, 2017 in Bathinda, India.

On the contrary the Prime Minister makes lofty vows in the passive voice. But his party's spin doctors and ministers actively make excuses on the ground. In Haryana we are hearing them by the bushel.

On the contrary the Prime Minister makes lofty vows in the passive voice.

For example,

Congress politicians too had courted the favour of Singh, as if that lets the BJP off the hook in Haryana in any way. As the party in power in Haryana, the buck stops with the Manoharlal Khattar government. If the Congress had been in power, their wooing of Singh would have been under the scanner too. Unless Khattar government's excuse is that they are no better than the Congress.

Haryana minister Manish Grover said that when there was a crowd of 50,000 to 1 lakh, "tab unmen ek natural gussa aata hai (they have a natural anger)." The problem, of course, was with the big bad media who had "created an atmosphere in the country – Babaji aa rahen hain, Babaji aa rahen hain (Babaji is coming, Babaji is coming)."

Grover along with two other ministers Ram Bilas Sharma and Anil Vij had given Singh Rs 1.12 crore. Vij had lamented he could not give more than Rs 50 lakh out of his discretionary fund to him.

On Friday Sharma had defended Singh's followers as "simple, loving people" who had "till now not touched a single plant." There was no indication that Sharma was eating his words.

After the violence in Basirhat in Bengal, state BJP leaders demanded the Mamata Banerjee government be dismissed and President's rule be imposed. Basirhat was spontaneous. It had not been building up for days. But apparently different standards apply for Haryana.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Dera Followers Celebrating when they got fake news about releasing of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh insan from CBI court while later he was declared accused on August 25, 2017 in Panchkula, India.

The BJP there is trying valiantly to shield their man, handpicked by the PM himself, Manohar Lal Khattar, by claiming a low-level administration goof-up allowed so many people to assemble in the first place and that anti-social elements had penetrated the dera followers. The Panchkula DCP Ashok Kumar was suspended but the Home Minister (who happens to be the chief minister) was unscathed.

Some even congratulated the government for restoring order as quickly as it did. As IANS reports, it patted itself on its back "for controlling the situation within three hours" and claimed it could have been worse.

The high court said bluntly the government was "misleading the court" and "administrative decisions were paralysed because of the political decisions" but the government seemed unfazed, preferring to blame anti-social bad apples, lower-level bureaucrats, sensationalistic media, and other political parties, anything and anyone but its own ineptitude.

If words are not backed up by actions, there is little reason to believe they carry much weight.

That's why the Prime Minister's impassioned appeal in his Mann ki Baat might be timely, but sounds empty as well. If words are not backed up by actions, there is little reason to believe they carry much weight.

The Prime Minister said in his Mann ki Baat:

"I want to assure my countrymen that people who take the law into their own hands and are on the path of violent suppression – whether it is a person or a group –neither this country nor any government will tolerate it."

It's good to hear the Prime Minister reiterate yet again that everyone must abide by the law. It would be even better to see evidence of that zero tolerance in action.

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