The awkward moment when Modi faced hard home truths in London

After all, we are a nation that believes in not letting out 'ghar ki baat', forget 'Bharat ki Baat Sabke Saath'.

 |  6-minute read |   18-04-2018
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As Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in the UK on April 18 for a four-day visit, the mainstream media back home was abuzz with customary news reports – "Grand welcome for PM Modi in London"; "Ghar Ka Khana For PM Modi in London". The headline that the Indian media chose to gloss over was that apart from "ghar ka khana", what waited for the PM were a few home truths.

While most news websites and TV channels focused on the grand welcome, laced with a liberal dose of foreign policy jargon about India-UK ties, a Reuters report said "hundreds of noisy protesters greeted the PM when he arrived in London on Wednesday". The same report said the protesters were demonstrating over the "rising tide of sexual violence in India, including two particularly brutal rapes" – in Kathua and Unnao.

pic_041818093712.jpgImage: Reuters photo

For the record, the BJP has been accused of shielding the accused in both the cases because of political pressure. While in the Unnao case, BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh Kuldeep Singh Sengar is accused of raping a teenager, in J&K's Kathua, an eight-year-old was allegedly sedated and repeatedly raped before being murdered by eight Hindu men, to drive away the nomadic Bakwarwal Muslim community from Jammu.

Holding placards of “Modi go home” and “we stand against Modi’s agenda of hate and greed”, protesters, according to the Reuters report, gathered outside Downing Street and the parliament as PM Modi arrived for talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

What the Indian media is usually not comfortable in highlighting was underscored by the British media – "India is a ‘republic of fear’. The UK must keep the pressure on Modi", screamed a think piece in The Guardian.

And with that, what the PM and his party had been avoiding addressing back home blew up in PM Modi's face in London, even as he spoke eloquently and tweeted frantically about India-UK ties. 

Attending the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Modi said Britain will be just as important to India after it leaves the EU (post-Brexit) as it is now. He reportedly told the British PM that the City of London was of great importance to India for "accessing the global markets and would remain so".

Britain, which is due to exit the EU in March next year, may have been left glowing with PM Modi's warm fuzzies, but certainly not his Indian voters, who have been losing sleep over the BJP's exclusionist policy back home.

The ordinary citizens of India are still trying to wrap their heads around Narendra Modi's role as the country's PM. Although, by now, everybody has almost accepted the fact that the PM will not address the press or take impromptu questions (unless posed by a select few channels), nobody so far has been able to figure out his selective "cause promotion" on social media. That he chooses to keep silent on important law and order issues, as grave as murders, lynchings and rapes, but feels the urgency to wish the nation on Akshaya Tritiya, is something that even hardcore (read most idle, indolent, work-shy) social media addicts have failed to understand.

Yes, festivals play a huge role in the lives of festive-happy Indians, but the fact that it took the PM days to break his silence on the brutal rape cases, with a cagey “our daughters will get justice”, reeks of utter lack of empathy. Even routine foreign policy statements dripping official jargon are not as dry and bereft of compassion and humanity. Why was he so afraid of even mentioning the crime – rape – that the daughters were subjected to?

So much so that former PM Manmohan Singh, who had been ridiculed throughout his stint by Modi and his supporters for not speaking enough, was forced to come out and remind him that he needs to speak up and speak out.

In an interview to The Indian Express, Singh said: “I do feel that those in authority must speak up in time so as to give a lead to their followers.” He added that PM Modi’s "silence led people to think that they could get away without stern action being taken against them".

Manmohan Singh is not alone in his anxiety. Every Indian woman today is asking the same question: Why is it so difficult for the PM to say the word "rape", when men with "affiliations" to his own party and its ideology are not shy of committing the same crime, or supporting those accused of it?

The BJP has been justifying the PM's silence, saying that those demanding that he speak up, especially opposition parties, have adopted a “pick and choose” policy in condemning crime against women, and have selectively highlighted the two rape cases to target the BJP.

But when the PM selectively chooses to wish women on International Women's Day and urges others to "write about some women who inspire you", what are we supposed to make of such pro-women Twitter homilies?

There was a time when Indian women would have ideally expected the British PM, Theresa May, to empathise with them during such periods of crisis, but can we really expect a statement from her touching the issue when our own women ministers refused to condemn the rapes and reassure India's hundreds of thousands of women and little girls? 

As Indians brace themselves for a flurry of media reports and think pieces breaking down PM Modi's foreign policy for us for the next couple of days, they must first check the PM's next update on Twitter for more "Dilli-London same same" and all that jazz.

And don't blame just the PM – after all, we are a nation that believes in not letting out "ghar ki baat", forget "Bharat ki Baat Sabke Saath". 

Also read: Statement of Deepika Singh Rajawat, the lawyer representing Kathua rape victim

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Sanghamitra Baruah Sanghamitra Baruah

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