The PM did not speak of lynchings in his Independence Day speech. It is time we start speaking up

When the political class abandons its responsibilities, civil society needs to step up.

 |  4-minute read |   15-08-2018
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As Indians, friends and countrymen lent their ears to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his last Independence Day speech of this tenure, there was a lot to be heard and gathered in what the PM said, but more importantly, in what he chose not to say.

In a long speech — it lasted for 82 minutes — the PM spoke of the years that had dragged India down and how we were now literally aiming for the sky (Gaganyaan Mission), of gas connections and rural electrification, of blue revolution and sweet revolution, of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, of Gandhi and Ambedkar.

What he did not mention were the incidents of lynchings that have occurred over the past four years, the murders of rationalists and journalists, the attacks on Dalits from Una to Bhima-Koregaon.

And, in this silence, he ended up giving his loudest message to civil society — the political class will not look beyond poll compulsions. It is left to us to raise our voices against hate and violence. It is us who will fall if divided, and us who need to keep fighting to stay united.

It is not difficult to find reasons for why Modi chose not to speak on certain issues. His rather defensive speech was an indication that the BJP is aware of anti-incumbency creeping up. In fact, his exclusions provide rather a neat list to opponents of what his government can be cornered on — lack of jobs, farmer suicides, mob violence.  

It makes no sense politically for the PM to send mixed signals to his core constituency, or include a voter block the BJP has apparently realised it can do well without, ahead of the all-important general elections.

The PM mentioned Dalits, he spoke of passing a Bill to create the OBC Commission. The only time he mentioned “Muslims” was in the context of triple talaq — of his government’s determination to “end the practice”, though the Supreme Court has already invalidated instant triple talaq.

But talking of lynchings would not necessarily have involved mentioning Muslims. Several incidents of mob violence reported recently have been over rumours of “child lifting”. Modi has been a big proponent of Digital India — a theme he elaborated on in his Independence Day address too. A cautionary word about the dangers of blind reliance on social media, from the hugely popular Prime Minister, would have gone a long way in raising awareness about the issue.

But Modi maintained a safe distance from all thorny topics.

The former would have been what a true “leader” of the country — a statesman — would have done. The latter is what a canny pracharak of the BJP, an astute politician, chose to do.

Despite the poetry, the PM made a prosaic, poll-aimed speech. (Photo: PTI)Despite the poetry, the PM made a prosaic, poll-aimed speech. (Photo: PTI)

But before we condemn the Prime Minister for his omissions, let us remember that he is not the only one reticent on the “Muslim Question”.

The BJP has a core constituency to hold on to. But even the avowedly “secular” Congress speaks up on Muslim issues only when politically expedient. In his No Confidence motion speech in Parliament, Rahul Gandhi had gone hammer and tongs against the government over the Rafale deal, with shaky data. But he made no more than a passing mention of lynchings, which are not about figures and stats, but about human lives, the lives of voters, the lives of citizens of this country.

The political class has made its choice.

It is up to civil society to make ours. The freedom that the PM was celebrating from the Red Fort, the freedom that allows us to hold views and express them, is a right and a responsibility. It is time we respect the first more, and discharge the second better.

For civil society, every day will have to be Independence Day — a day to remember that independence came at a great cost, and cannot be shackled by vote bank politics. That when life and death become issues to derive electoral capital out of for the political class, it is our lives, and our deaths, being thus exploited, and thus wasted.  

That if the political class is failing us, our job does not end at bemoaning it.

We can get up and do something about it.

We are free to.

Also read: How PM Modi's Independence Day speech set the agenda for 2019 Lok Sabha polls

Writer

Yashee Yashee @yasheesingh

The writer is a journalist.

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