After a week of pointed silence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken on the Dadri lynching. At an election rally in Nawada in Bihar on Thursday, Modi referred to President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech on Wednesday, where he had spoken about India's “core values” of tolerance and plurality. “I want to appeal to everyone not to listen to hate speeches,” Modi said. It was an oblique reference, at best, but it seems to respond to a growing demand that the prime minister speak out against the mob killing.
At first it seemed as though the Bharatiya Janata Party had declared open season on Dadri. Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma prattled happily about “accidents”, Minister of State for Agriculture Sanjeev Balyan suddenly felt it was the right time to assess beef exports, BJP MLA Sangeet Som dove in, sleeves rolled up, and promised a “befitting reply” if innocent men were framed. There was much talk of cow as mother.
Then the BJP seemed to recollect itself. The central leadership told party members to pipe down, the home ministry sent out a strongly worded circular on “zero tolerance” for actions that damaged the “secular fabric”, senior leaders like Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh voiced the condemnation that should have come days earlier. Oddly enough, this babble of voices at the top only made the radio silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi even more glaring.
From the verbal dysfunction of the BJP, the focus shifted to the prime minister’s stiff upper lip on Dadri, not unlike his stiff upper lip on Gujarat 2002. Cabinet minister Nitin Gadkari dismissed the call for Modi to speak as noise made by the media and a “microscopic minority” of “Left-thinking people”. Here’s a closer look at the microscopic minority which forced Modi to speak out at Nawada.
Opposition at the Centre
Naturally, the Congress was among the first to jump into the fray, as party spokesperson RPN Singh pointed out that the prime minister tweets about everything but had not spoken about Dadri, and demanded that he do so.
The Trinamool Congress joined in, as member of Parliament Sultan Ahmed said the prime minister’s silence was spreading “communal poison” across the country.
Opposition in the states
In Bihar, where Modi finally spoke up, the BJP’s rivals in a fiercely fought electoral contest were not pulling any punches. Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, with his characteristic flair for the bon mot, chose the BJP’s favoured rhetorical device, the epics, to lash out at the prime minister. He called Modi a “Dhritarashtra”, one who was deaf and dumb as well as blind.
On Thursday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed his opinion that the “real Modi” had finally revealed himself, maintaining a “deafening silence” on the Dadri incident. It was, Kumar felt, a “brazen attempt to add communal texture” to the polls.
The prime minister’s silence also resonated in Jammu and Kashmir, where a beef ban created political havoc, a beef ban suspension created some more havoc and an MLA was beaten up by BJP members for throwing a beef party. As Modi tweeted about former BJP MP and cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu’s health, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah was indignant.
What does it say about our Hon PM that Sidhu's DVT (blood clot) got more attention from him that #Ikhlaq's cold blooded murder did!!!!
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) October 7, 2015
Coalition partners in the states
As the beef issue continued to roil Kashmir, even J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, whose People’s Democratic Party runs a coalition government with the BJP, had some gentle advice for the prime minister. Modi is “here to stay for the next 10 years”, Sayeed said, and he has to put up a political fight to the growing trend of communalism.
Was Gadkari referring to the Communist Party of India? Because the CPI lost no time in condemning the “inhuman and uncultured” remarks of the culture minister and professing itself “surprised at Modi's silence on such irrational and intolerant killing of innocent people”.
Or did he mean All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president, Asaduddin Owaisi, who punches far above his political weight and who also made a trip to Dadri to call the lynching a “pre-planned” murder?
A few days later, Owaisi dropped the conspiracy theories for a dose of patriotism: “When the father of a corporal is killed inhumanly why should not the PM talk. He should up the moral of the son who is serving the country,”
The anger over the prime minister’s reticence took on a certain gravitas as author Nayantara Sahgal returned her Sahitya Akademi Award. It was accompanied by a letter titled “The Unmaking of India”, where she mentioned the murder of rationalists who questioned Hindutva, the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq as well as the silence of Modi in this “reign of terror” as reasons for returning the award. She was joined by author and former chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi, Ashok Vajpeyi, and other writers.
What must have really tipped the scales for Modi is the outrage on social media, where his detractors were as vocal as his supporters and assorted Hindutva trolls. Twitter developed a sense of history as #BabriseDadriTak took over news feeds.
Those who say that PM hasn't spoken on Dadri mob lynching are wrong. PM's silence has spoken the loudest. #BabriSeDadriTak
— Priyanka Chaturvedi (@priyankac19) October 4, 2015
Modi silent in the face of a brutal murder which his own partymen are endorsing is no leader, he's a camp follower https://t.co/fOu7EmhMhR
— Hartosh Singh Bal (@HartoshSinghBal) October 4, 2015
— Anti Sanghi (@india_irony) October 3, 2015