For a PM constantly in the public eye, Modi has been accused of silence surprisingly often

At two years PM Modi is seen but not heard and yet strongly approvedPTI/file photo
Voices Politics Friday, May 27, 2016 - 17:32

It was in 2012 that current Prime Minister Narendra Modi first crafted one of his most winning formulae when he gave the then PM the moniker of “MaunMohan” Singh, portraying him as the eternally silent Prime Minister. Four years later, and two years into his own tenure as PM, Modi presents a paradoxical picture of his presence in the public gaze.

As Aijaz Ashraf writes in Scroll, according to available data, the Prime Minister has made 363 speeches in 706 days of office until May 1, making an average of one speech every 45.6 hours. In these two years, the Prime Minister has also reportedly launched or inaugurated 41 schemes or projects, attended 21 receptions organised in foreign locations by Indians, 16 ceremonies for laying foundation stones, 15 events pertaining to education, ten religious-cultural events, nine literary events and five related to yoga or ayurveda.

Yet, for a Prime Minister who is constantly in the public eye, Modi has been accused surprisingly often of being silent on key issues that have raged in the public domain. Sample this list, for instance:

One of the major areas where Modi’s silence has been criticised is in the area of what many call communal intolerance.  Soon after the BJP marched into power at the centre, the murder of a young Muslim techie in Pune allegedly by members of a fringe right-wing outfit caught national media attention. Various media outlets criticised Modi for his refusal to comment on the killing, unsatisfied with the explanation that the Prime Minister need not comment on every incident that occurs in the country. When Modi did finally speak, he avoided the question of communalism by clubbing this murder with a laundry list of others.

More than a year later, when a Muslim man was lynched in Dadri at the doorstep of the national capital for allegedly eating beef (it was later found to be mutton), Modi repeated his studied silence, and when he finally spoke, his speech was, “a date-less, place-less, fact-free condemnation of petty politicians who say stupid things to advance their selfish interests,” as Mukul Kesavan describes it in an opinion piece on NDTV. All the Prime Minister did in his speech was to ask people to ignore politicians trying to advance their interests by vitiating the public atmosphere.

Modi has also been repeatedly accused of failing to hold back and restrain party-members and fellow-travellers prone to inflammatory public statements, from Union Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti labelling non-Hindus as “haramzadon” (illegitimately born) to fellow-traveller and yoga guru Baba Ramdev suggesting beheading people for not saying “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

Communal violence is not the only subject on which the PM has maintained a studied silence. Even as campuses around the country have been in ferment, Modi has had little to say about this anger. On the subject of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide, for instance, the Prime Minister once again sought to set the political implications of the case aside in his first statement five days after Rohith’s death, saying, “Reasons and politics may have their own place but the fact remains that a mother has lost his child.”

At least Rohith’s suicide merited a direct mention from the PM. The JNU row, on the other hand, which galvanized almost every section of public opinion in the country over the question of purported “anti-national” slogans, only received a vague allusion about Stalin and censorship in Russia from the PM.

Considering that the BJP had conducted its 2014 election campaign on the anti-corruption plank, one would at least have expected strong statements from the PM on this issue. And yet, when corruption-tainted former IPL chief Lalit Modi flew the coup, entangling External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, or when the Vyapam scam in government-recruitments ensnared the Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the PM avoided taking a public stand on the scandals., Modi’s voice is notoriously absent even on issues in which he had stridently attacked Sonia Gandhi and the UPA during the previous regime. During the 2014 campaign, for instance, when one of two Italian marines arrested for shooting and killing two Kerala fishermen was allowed to leave the country, the PM had tweeted: “Italian marines mercilessly killed our fishermen. If Madam (Sonia Gandhi) is so 'patriotic' can she tell us in which jail are the marines lodged in?”

However, come 2016, and the Modi government failed to register any objection to the second marine being allowed to return home by the Supreme Court on “humanitarian grounds”. Absent on this occasion were any claims to patriotism.

Yet, curiously, all of this silence on the part of the Prime Minister seems to have had little effect on popular perceptions of him, with one or two polls rating Modi as still highly popular. One IVR poll of 1400 respondents, for instance, said that the Prime Minister had the approval of 74% of people.