19/10/2015 8:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Chai Pe Charcha To Gai Pe Charcha: Can Modi Stop The Degeneration Of Indian Politics?

India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers wearing paper masks of their Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, sell tea at a railway station as part of their campaign for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bhopal, India, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta)

One of the reasons for Narendra Modi's phenomenal success in last year's general elections, apart from his impressive track record as Gujarat CM and visionary leadership, was his introduction of several game-changing in the run up to the elections. One such initiative was "chai pe charcha," which caught the imagination of the people of India and became symbolic because of Modi's humble beginnings as a tea vendor. Through this programme he connected with voters, conveying the message that he was one of them and would work for them.

After becoming Prime Minister, Modi initiated several promising programmes that have already achieved a measure of success, including Jan Dhan Yojana,Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Make in India. He has also trained his focus on infrastructural development and foreign investment in India, visiting many world leaders to build existing relations and to sell the dream of India as an investment destination. Under his leadership, the decades-old border dispute with Bangladesh was settled and India's ties with all its neighbours, barring Pakistan, have improved.

Yet, lately, some MPs and ministers in Modi's cabinet appear to be working at cross purposes. They are slowly undoing all the good work done by Modi, with some leaders sullying the image of India by their intemperate comments on a variety of issues. Most recently, their comments on "cow slaughter" have become the focus of controversy. While the Culture Minister termed the shocking Dadri lynching as an "unfortunate accident" and another local leader called the killers "innocent children". All they have succeeded in doing with such comments is making the minorities more insecure. The rest of us are left wondering why Modi isn't taking action against them, or even speculating whether this is part of a larger conspiracy to keep Modi under check.

The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq was a consequence of a baseless rumour, purportedly spread by a fringe group, that he and his family had consumed beef. This was enough to enrage some Hindus living in the area. The tragedy that followed and the resultant political storm are well documented - one Samajwadi Party leader even threatened to take the issue to the United Nations, a bizarre proposal that was condemned across the political spectrum.

The killing of Akhlaq is not a one-off incident, but appears to be part of a larger conspiracy to intimidate people who don't subscribe to a particular ideology. In fact, when Akhlaq saw the mob approaching, the first person he called was his Hindu friend. In one stroke, the generations old peaceful coexistence between the two communities was destroyed in Dadri.

The "ban on beef" (which, incidentally, does not apply in UP) is an encroachment on the fundamental right of people to eat whatever they want to. Surely, we have far more important issues to grapple with than what is on the menu. Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, in an interview given to India Today, warns of a growing "reflexive desire to ban one thing or another in India." He explains that the issue is not about the content of the bans as much as it is about people's freedom.

Although India has witnessed several communal incidents since Independence, there has rarely been such a large public outcry as against the killing of Akhlaq. The backlash has been so severe that 26 writers have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards to protest what they call the country's "rising intolerance." Poet Ashok Vajpeyi feels that Hindu nationalists are using "bans, suspicion and hurt feelings" to stoke religious bigotry in the name of "tradition."

In an interview given to a TV channel, the Booker Prize winning author, Salman Rushdie questioned the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "silence" on the issue while coming out strongly against "thuggish violence" and dismissing criticism by "Modi toadies", saying he supported no political party.

Modi's so-called silence, however, has been exaggerated. In an election rally in Bihar, the Prime Minister did appeal to members of both the communities to live in harmony and unite to fight poverty. He later referred to the Dadri lynching as "really sad", but the fact that he said so 10 days after the incident worked against him. The social media savvy leader also fell short of condemning the perpetrators. If Modi had been more vocal in condemning the Dadri killing, he would have reached out to the minorities, assuring them that Dadri was an aberration and they could live without fear in this great country.

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