When Obama expresses grief, Modi plays drums

On every occasion of a national crisis, the US president stands with the people of America. Not the Indian prime minister.

 |  7-minute read |   11-07-2016
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On a day when Kashmir was burning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was playing drums in Tanzania.

On the same day, US President Barack Obama announced to curtail his visit to Spain to dash home and deal with the aftermath of Dallas violence.

For Obama, Black lives matter. The now virtually lame-duck president cares for his people. He shows that he cares. Obama is the first US president to visit Spain in 15 years. Yet, he abbreviated his visit to be with the people who were suffering.

During the trip to Europe, Obama took every opportunity to address the American people as the country experienced the spasm of racial divide in the aftermath of Dallas shooting. In Poland to attend the NATO summit, Obama spoke thrice on the situation in Dallas.

From the platform of the NATO summit at the press conference, he said, “I want to begin this press conference with events back home” and spoke about the “sorrow, anger, confusion” that existed in America.

Having dealt with the domestic situation, he spoke about the NATO. He skipped a sightseeing tour of Seville in Spain to return to the US.

But what did our prime minister do as south Kashmir was burning? Offering platitude to Gandhi’s struggle in South Africa and fiddling with African drums?

Modi couldn’t care less for lives lost in the Valley. No tweets, no words of sympathy. All that he had to offer by way of sympathy was sounds of drums from thousands of miles away.

Nobody is asking Modi to curtail his visit. Africa is important. Diplomacy is important. But surely there are ways to show that the nation’s elected leader feels for the sufferings of the people.

Modi’s silence on Kashmir sounds demeaning and insulting.

He should ask his friend Barack. On every occasion of a national tragedy, Obama stands with the people of America to share their grief. That’s the legacy he is leaving behind.

Contrast the statement issued by the White House on Obama’s press conference in Poland with the statement about Modi’s drumming skills posted on the PMO website on a day when people and policemen were dying in Kashmir.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi's skills as a drummer were on Sunday on full display here as he along with Tanzanian President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli played the traditional drums with elan.”

"New beats to the #IndiaAfrica rhythm! PM @narendramodi and President @MagufuliJP play the drum," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.

The statement goes on to describe how Modi was keen to not only beat the drum but to beat his host in the art of drum beating.

“Both the leaders played the wooden drums for a minute after the Prime Minister was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the State House here. 65-year-old Modi was seen enjoying the drumming session with the Tanzanian President, who appeared to halt briefly but resumed the drumming again when he saw the Indian leader was in no mood to stop,” the statement said.

Not once did Modi think it necessary to assure the people of Kashmir and the country from abroad that he was with them in the hour of crisis. Didn’t he think it necessary to assure the policemen’s family members who had lost their near and dear ones in the Valley that the prime minister cared for them?

Modi should learn from his “friend Barack” the skill to navigate the perpetual conflicts between the people and the power.

modi-obama-embed_071116045104.jpg Modi should learn from his “friend Barack” the skill to navigate the perpetual conflicts between the people and the power. 

In statement after statements, Obama skillfully castigated the police for racial prejudices as well as the black Dallas shooter who killed the cops in revenge. He scolded both the sections and at the same time found common ground between them to issue a call for amity and harmony.

Obama’s outrage over the Dallas shooting is not a one-off affair. He has taken bold positions against gun violence; he has stood up against the white supremacist ideology. To the extent that neo-cons have called Obama anti-cop, which by implication means anti-white.

And there have been occasions when Obama seemed to be persuaded more by emotion that reasons as in the case of his outburst against a police officer in Boston who arrested historian Henry Louis Gates (an African-American). Obama went public saying that the officer had “acted stupidly,” which led to an outrage that Obama defused by tendering an apology and calling a “beer summit” with the historian and the cop over lunch at the White House.

That was very early in his presidency in 2009. Whether it was the Aurora shooting in a movie hall in 2012, or the latest mass massacre at a gay club in Orlando, the first black president of America has been angry and hopeful at the same time over the American racial divide and the cult of gun violence.

In an emotional peroration while talking about the Sandy Hook school massacre in New Town, Connecticut, Obama cried before a national audience. On other occasions, his scorn for the GOP presumptive candidate Donald Trump was as visible as his frustrations over his failure to push through effective gun control laws.

That’s the reason Obama connects with the American people.

Indian people have reasons to feel alienated from Modi. He doesn’t rush out to wipe the tears of the people who suffer. Modi is quick to tweet on many issues and with alacrity. But why does he keep silent when something as outrageous as Dadri happens, where someone is lynched by a mob for his choice of meat?

Why is it that the press, the social media, the victims and the civil society have to urge, demand, and cry for a word of sympathy from their prime minister and yet they see no words forthcoming? Why is it that Modi can’t look into the eyes of Rohit Vemula’s mother and say that he felt agonised over the death her son? Why did he have to generalise and speak in indirect manner that he was sorry whenever a mother lost her son?

One can understand Modi lacks the intellectual stature and strength to rise to the level of Obama. Does he also lack the strength to rise to the occasion and stand with the people? Isn’t Kashmir an integral part of India, Mr Prime Minister?


Ashok K Singh Ashok K Singh @kashoksingh

He is a journalist, writer and commentator.

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