It is now palpable—the Modi government's moral paralysis is shaping the destiny of the people of India. It is a time therefore, for contemplative pause, and in equal measure for constructive outrage against how diversity as an organising principle of contemporary Indian society is being challenged, thereby influencing our capacities and intentions to co-exist as one people.
(And remember, there is not a shred of evidence from any part of the world, that tax reforms unite people, relentless advertising notwithstanding.)
Even before nightfall on the very day that Modi condemned the killing of 15-year-old Junaid, Alimuddin Ansari was lynched to death in another part of India, every gruesome detail of which was recorded by the perpetrators, and widely circulated, short of being live telecast. The return of the primitive pleasure in violence and cruelty, all in the name of the greater good, the nation and the cow.
His advice and guidance [on lynching Muslims] have failed to influence the intended audience... is this merely by chance? Or is it by design? Four key performative characteristics... indicate a design.
Prime Minister Modi has almost perforce had to respond twice (or thrice?) to the nearly 60 incidents of cow-related attacks under his watch. His advice and guidance have so far failed to influence the intended audience. The question that then begs asking, is whether this is merely by chance? Or is it by design?
Four key performative characteristics of these rare responses, which indicate a design, deserve a close reading. Like in music, a melody is understood and attributed meaning to by studying the intervals between notes and the half notes; so too in political speak.
First, the response time. The Prime Minister takes his time to craft a calibrated response, like one would if one heard of a tragedy of an acquaintance many times removed. He shows no urgency to respond, as one would if a dear friend or relative was brutally murdered. After the 2015 lynching and murder of Akhlaq in Dadri, while the whole country was shocked at the brutality, Modi deliberated over it for 30 days before he exhorted Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty together, rather than fighting one another. Never mind, that in this case, Hindu's were the aggressors and Muslims didn't need to be lectured. After Junaid's murder last month, he took almost a week to respond, spurred on by street protests across many cities.
Second, these responses, and condemnations were never stand-alone statements. They have been made almost in passing, a few ceremonial minutes embedded in a half hour speech about an entirely different subject. He has never dwelled at any length on the issue of religious violence and why it has no place in modern India. He has never said anything weighty or memorable enough to make sure his Muslim audience feels safe under his watch.
Third, he never honours the dead person by naming him. His statements condemning violence against Muslims are made euphemistically, in vague generalities, with only just that much of an indication to locate the peg of his statement, never saying that he is saddened and sorry that x or y lost his life in such a meaningless and brutal way.
He and his government hide behind the toothless officialese of "no one can take law into their own hands." However... he breaks this pattern when he responds to the lynching of Dalit boys in Una...
Fourth, he never uses the M word to locate the vector of the conflict. He and his government hide behind the toothless officialese of 'no one can take law into their own hands'. However, it is worth noting that he breaks this pattern when he responds to the lynching of Dalit boys in Una, saying, "If you want to attack, attack me, not Dalits. If you want to shoot, shoot me". But there has been no similarly rousing utterance in support of Muslims. The Prime Minister and his government seem to carefully avoid participating in the mourning of a Muslim death.
These characteristics indicate a deliberate departure from Modi's usual method of tutoring his audiences.
He is a master communicator. He displays great acumen in ensuring recall. He has displayed his facility for creating mnemonics, memorable acronyms, and catchy phrases to ensure he can simplify his message for the lowest common denominator among his voters. He uses the art of delirious repetition effectively, employs the repeat-after-me technique and the suitably authoritative question-answer method in large crowds—all to ensure that his words, his presence and his manner leave an imprint, create a memory.
But he seems to not be able to command this range of well-honed capacities into action when he sends his message of "stop the lynchings, now' while condemning the murder of Muslims.
That Modi chooses not to respond by creating a powerful counter-image in our memory of him squarely chastising the killers seems, by no means, an innocent omission.
Modi knows very well that there is zero recall value to his phrase, "no one can take law in their hands," but he still uses it when he does finally respond to murders and lynchings. He knows he leaves little impact when he says Gandhi would not approve of lynching Junaid.
That Modi chooses not to respond by creating a powerful counter-image in our memory of him squarely chastising the killers seems, by no means, an innocent omission. Modi's moral paralysis is that he cannot bring himself to tell his followers and the RSS cadres that, listen up Mitron, Muslims are equal citizens and not the second class citizens that you were told by the pracharaks for the last 50 years.
Is it because he very likely prefers that the image of the young body of unarmed Junaid being mercilessly and repeatedly knived on a running train in front of hundreds of passengers mortified into silence remains etched in our memory? So that the image suffices as a warning?
Given his political lineage and past record in Gujarat, does Modi have little moral muscle left to flex on this issue?
Modi's moral paralysis is best captured in the words of a mourner present at Alimuddin Ansari's funeral in Jharkhand. "They should declare a Hindutva state and kick us out," he said heatedly. "It would be better than killing us off like this one by one."
The past is never dead, it just re-enters the present in new ways, especially when the door is left ajar in invitation. Modi still has two years to shut that door. Will he?