Modi's Speech Delays And Obama's Eloquence

16/08/2016 2:30 PM IST | Updated 18/08/2016 8:28 AM IST
POOL New / Reuters

Perhaps the title of this article is misleading. Narendra Modi, of course, is probably the most eloquent orator India has had in several decades in India (the other of course was Atal Behari Vajpayee). He's extremely active on social media to boot, far more than most international leaders. Well-spoken and intelligent, he has come up with several novel policies to help the poor and clean up the cities. He has several critical issues in this country to deal with and clearly has a punishing schedule. Yet at times when the country expected him to speak up, his silence has been rather deafening.

When horrific crimes with systemic roots happen, and which affect the country so deeply, Modi's timely intervention would go a great way towards healing those affected...

Now let us look at President Obama. He is also on social media, has several domestic and international issues to deal with and also works very hard. Several observers have stated that he will be judged as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. A fine orator he has never disappointed when the nation needed him to address an issue. From school shootings to the Orlando terror attack to incidents of race-related violence, President Obama has visited the sites of crimes, condemned the killings and comforted the relatives of the victims. Following the recent shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas, he cancelled an important meeting in Europe and headed back home to visit Texas to comfort the relatives of the victims. He is a vociferous advocate of gun control and has pleaded for Congress to rise above politics to pass tighter laws to protect citizens.

Modi came with an agenda of development, inclusiveness and a promise to run a corruption-free government. By and large, his government has remained untainted by corruption charges although the report card has been mixed on the development front. But these issues have been sidelined by the BJP government's focus on matters such as beef bans and cow protection.

The ban on beef was always there in several states but now has been implemented with high enthusiasm, and goons have taken over as the protectors of cows. Last year in Dadri, about 100km from the prime minister's office, a bunch of goons burst into a house and killed a person and attacked his family because they suspected that the victims had consumed beef. This caused shock waves around the country and the violence was condemned by all political parties. However, the Prime Minister was silent for a long time, only mentioning it obliquely in an election rally.

There have been several such attacks, one of the most recent taking place in Modi's home state, Gujarat, where a group of Dalits were stripped and beaten for carrying the carcass of a dead cow. After several days in a rally in far off Hyderabad Modi finally said that the cow protectors or gau rakshaks were hooligans and the state must make a dossier on them. He, however, stopped of saying that the strictest action must be taken against them. He also dramatically said that those who attack Dalits could shoot him first instead, a pointless statement that has more flair than substance.

A great communicator himself, Modi should follow Obama's example and talk directly to the people in times of crisis.

By far, the most serious issue is now in Kashmir which is up in arms due to the killing of a young militant Burhan Wani who has been eulogized in Kashmir as a freedom fighter. The state has been virtually under shutdown for more than a month. The crisis has been severe and while I think the security forces have worked with remarkable restraint, but the use of pellet guns has caused great damage to Kashmiris.

Once again, the PM broke his silence after a month in a rally and said that Indians love Kashmir and youngsters must have laptops and cricket bats rather than stones. Kashmir has been a problem which has persisted for the last 70 years and if Modi could work with stakeholders for a solution he would be hailed as a great statesman.

But even as Modi occasionally airs his views, BJP spokespersons maintain that the PM is an extremely busy person and cannot be speaking on every subject. Fair enough: no one expects the PM to speak every time there is a murder or rape in this large country. But when horrific crimes with systemic roots happen, and which affect the country so deeply, his timely intervention would go a great way towards healing those affected and avoiding events from spiralling out of control. Atrocities against Dalits and the Kashmir problem come under this category.

Modi has three more years in this term. It is time that he addresses issues of development and does something to ameliorate the discontent experienced by many disadvantaged people of this country. A word or a visit from the Prime Minister could go a long way in salving their wounds.

Modi has called Obama his friend and has met him several times. A great communicator himself, he should follow Obama's example and talk directly to the people in times of crisis.

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