New Delhi, September 13: For the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, he addressed a pressing issue in a timely fashion. This marks a significant improvement in the PMO’s response time. The outspoken Prime Minister has often faced heat from the opposition and his critics for not voicing his concern at times when the state mechanisms seem to be failing. The Cauvery water dispute has plunged Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in a state of chaos. People have taken to the streets and resorted to violence.Also Read - Stop Flights From Regions Witnessing New Omicron Variant: Kejriwal Urges PM Modi
Tensions in the states began when the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water from the Cauvery basin. Pro-Kannada groups and farmer unions were outraged by this, since the state was already reeling from a deficit monsoon. On Tuesday, the prime minister’s office released a statement wherein he appealed to the people of both states to refrain from violence. “Violence cannot provide a solution to any problem. In a democracy, solutions are found through restraint and mutual dialogue,” he said. During the protests, locals in both states attacked people and property of the other state. Commercial as well as private vehicles were set ablaze and bus transportation between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka came to a halt. “This dispute can only be solved within the legal ambit. Breaking the law is not a viable alternative. The violence and arson seen in the last two days is only causing loss to the poor, and to our nation’s property,” Modi said. Also Read - Planning Lockdown, Urging Flight Ban And Scaling up Testing: How Are Indian States Preparing to Combat Omicron
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“Whenever the country has faced adverse circumstances, the people of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, just like people across the country, have always handled the situation with sensitivity”. He went on to “appeal to the people of the two States, to display sensitivity, and also keep in mind their civic responsibilities”. This statements comes as soon as a day after violence reached its peak, which is impressive for a prime minister who maintained silence over incidents in the past that shook the nation.
Dadri lynching is one of the earliest examples of Modi’s selective reticence. Mohammad Akhlaq belonged to a minority community, and was lynched by a mob of fanatics in Dadri, 50 km away from the national capital, on the suspicion of having consumed beef. The prime minister did not speak about it in any of his public speeches, even as President Pranab Mukherjee condemned the act. Finally when Modi did break his silence, it made headlines across the nation. The desperation to hear him say something on the matter was evident by the number of opinions articles that followed the week after.
There are several issues, such as love-jihad and ghar wapsi, which have not found mention in Modi’s emphatic speeches. In some cases, political pundits argue, he does not want to upset the party’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. For instance, the Dadri lynching had the implicit backing of the RSS and other small Hindutva outfits. In the 2014 General Elections, Modi rode to power with the support of RSS. Upsetting its top brass may impact his election campaign in 2019, where regional parties pose a formidable challenge.
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The latest issue was the Una incident, where a group of Dalit boys were flogged by “Gau Rakshaks” or cow vigilantes for transporting cow carcass. For days after the event, Modi kept shut on the issue. Finally, he slammed the perpetrators and those enabling them during a televised interview. The incident was more damaging since it took place in his home state, Gujarat.
Another major issue where the Prime Minister kept mum was in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing, when violence spiked in the Kashmir valley. He didn’t speak on the Kashmir unrest until the opposition stalled parliamentary proceedings during the monsoon session which wasn’t until matters got worse. The valley is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Thousands have been injured, many have been blinded. The death toll crossed 75 this week, and most of the victims are civilians.
However, Modi’s delayed response can be justified by arguing that as Prime Minister, he has to analyse the situation entirely before commenting on it. His present policy on Kashmir and approach towards Pakistan need to be based on in-depth analyses of the ground realities. Lastly, to expect the prime minister comment on all issues immediately as they occur is an unrealistic and often politically driven. That being said, the PMO should try and keep the response time as quick as possible. Patience isn’t a virtue shared by Modi government’s critics.