Modi speak

Five things Modi focused on in his latest interviews (and one that he did not mention)

The prime minister was dismissive of the Opposition’s attempts to form an alliance ahead of 2019 and confident of the BJP’s victory.

With the final Independence Day speech of his term as prime minister around the corner, Narendra Modi gave interviews to two news organisation that were published on the weekend. In the interviews to ANI and The Times of India, Modi spoke about key subjects such as job creation, the economy, Assam’s National Register of Citizens and the 2019 general elections.

The prime minister condemned incidents of lynching and mob violence, which critics have accused his government of encouraging. He also said that his government was taking steps to engage with digital media platforms to prevent fake news.

Here are the main takeaways from the interviews.

On employment

Modi and his government have been routinely criticised for failing to create more jobs. That criticism seemed to obliquely come from within the government too. For instance, Union minister Nitin Gadkari, in reference to the Maratha protests in Maharashtra to demand quotas in government jobs for the community, said on August 4, “Let us assume the reservation is given. But there are no jobs. Because in banks, the jobs have shrunk because of IT. The government recruitment is frozen. Where are the jobs?”

Modi’s stock answer to the unemployment question – since a television interview in January in which he suggested that selling pakodas counts as being employed – is that the problem is not a lack of jobs but a lack of data about jobs. In other words, one should trust his government that there are jobs, it is just that there is no data to prove this.

In the interview to The Times of India, he repeated this assertion:

“Rather than the so-called failure of this government to create jobs, I believe the shortcoming lies in the absence or lack of streamlining of jobs. Naturally, in the absence of information, our opponents will exploit this situation and blame us for not creating jobs...

“If you look at claims made by state governments – Bengal says it created 68 lakh jobs and the previous Karnataka government claimed it created 53 lakh jobs. Are we saying that all the country’s jobs are being created in some states and that other states and the country as a whole, are not creating jobs? This propaganda on jobs by the Opposition is nothing but a political gimmick.”

On lynchings and mob violence

The Modi government has been accused of encouraging mob violence, especially attacks on Muslims and Dalits by cow protection vigilantes. While some ministers have on occasion decried such violence, incidents like that of a Union minister garlanding lynching convicts have added to this perception. Modi’s response has been to say that such incidents should not be politicised.

This is what he told ANI too:

“It would be a great travesty to reduce these incidents to mere statistics and then indulge in politics over them. That shows a kind of perverse mindset that looks at violence and criminality as something to be milked, instead of unitedly opposing. Even a single incident is one too many and deeply unfortunate. Everyone should rise above politics to ensure peace and unity in our society. My party and I have spoken in clear words, on multiple occasions against such actions and such a mindset. It is all on record. Also, we are people who go beyond just words. Look at the actions of our Home Ministry to see how we have acted against violence.”

On the spread of fake news

As before, Modi – who once dismissed journalists as “news traders” – did not offer a full-throated condemnation of fake news but said that the most effective solution for it is “self-realisation” and “self-restraint”.

He told The Times of India:

“As individuals, we all must know the dos and don’ts of social interactions. The moment a person decides ‘these are the lines I won’t cross, come what may’, then I am sure all aspects will be taken care of.

“Digital media stands for equality and furthers the spirit of freedom of expression. It is a bastion of free speech and creative expression. There was a time when one had to be ‘eminent’ to be heard. Digital media has changed that. The power of one Facebook post, tweet or Instagram story is immense.”

On Assam’s National Register of Citizens

Assam’s National Register of Citizens – an exercise in drawing up a list of Indian citizens in the state, separating them from undocumented migrants – was the subject of much debate during the monsoon session of Parliament that concluded last week. There was an outcry after four million names were left out of the final draft, which was published on July 30.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party maintained this was an important exercise to remove Bangladeshi infiltrators, Opposition politicians such as Mamata Banerjee, Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati were critical of the exercise.

In the interviews, the prime minister accused the Opposition of playing “vote bank politics” and maintained that the Congress lacked the “political will and courage” to implement the National Register of Citizens.

He told The Times of India:

“I am sure all Indians will agree that sovereignty and citizenship are essential aspects of any nation. Those unnecessarily raising controversies need to realise the genuineness of this exercise and that is monitored by the Supreme Court. It is ironic that our opponents who do not have faith in the CJI [chief justice of India] now don’t even have a faith in a Supreme Court-monitored exercise. It is only an issue of national interest. There is no place for politics when it comes to national interest.”

In the interview to ANI, Modi said:

“Only those who have lost faith in themselves, fear loss of popular support and lack faith in our institutions can use words like ‘civil war’, ‘blood bath’ and ‘desh ke tukde tukde’. Evidently, they are disconnected from the pulse of the nation. As far as Mamataji’s stand is concerned, she should remember what she said on the floor of the Parliament in 2005. Was that Mamataji correct or is this Mamataji correct? The Congress is also playing politics over the NRC [National Register of Citizens].”

The prime minister was referring to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s contention that Assam’s National Register of Citizens would lead to “civil war and bloodbath”, and to her statement in 2005 when she reportedly sought a discussion on the subject of undocumented immigrants in West Bengal.

On the 2019 elections

With the general elections a year away, Modi and the BJP have been dismissive of Opposition efforts to form a mahagathbandhan or grand alliance. In the interviews, too, the prime minister exuded confidence of his party retaining power.

Modi told ANI:

“Let us understand the true character of the mahagathbandhan. The mahagathbandhan is for personal survival, not for ideological support. The mahagathbandhan is for personal ambitions, not for people’s aspirations. The mahagathbandhan is purely about power politics, not about people’s mandate. The mahagathbandhan is about dynasties, not about development. The mahagathbandhan is not about any union of minds or ideas, but about rank opportunism. The only question is whether they will break up before the election or after!”

Rejecting the Opposition alliance as a “non-ideological alliance of desperate and disparate groups”, he told The Times of India:

“I am very confident that my party will continue to get the love and affection of the people as we have received in the past four years. We will definitely get more seats than we got the last time and I am confident that we will break all records of the seats won by NDA [the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance] in the past and achieve greater glory. The people are with us and we have nothing to fear.”

(Not) on demonetisation

In both interviews, Modi spent some time talking about the Goods and Services Tax – one of two major financial policies of his government that are likely to define his term in office. But he was conspicuously silent on the other policy: demonetisation, the government’s decision in November 2016 to withdraw 86% of the currency in circulation and replace it with new notes, ostensibly in an attempt to root out black money. This was meant to be a major policy effort for the Modi government. But in the face of a barrage of criticism, demonetisation has not been a major part of the BJP’s political rhetoric of late.

In The Times of India interview, this question seemed to give the prime minister an opportunity to speak about the policy: “What are government’s three initiatives/achievements that have brought you the greatest satisfaction? What are the three things you wished you could have done better?”

However, Modi chose not to give a definitive answer, only saying:

“All my government’s steps since we came to power have been taken with passion and commitment. Singling out favourites that provide, as you say, ‘greatest satisfaction’ would be unfair and not in keeping with this government’s policy. We are working towards a vision for New India and taking initiatives for the same. To sit and ponder on the success of past initiatives would take away precious time that can be dedicated to new ones.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.