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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

His silence is golden: Why Modi won't speak on controversies

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By Swapan Dasgupta
Public memory in India tends to be woefully short-lived. Political buffs may, however, recall an incident during the Gujarat assembly election campaign of 2007 when, during the course of a TV interview aboard the campaign bus, chief minister Narendra Modi was asked a question about the carping noises made by his former mentor Keshubhai Patel. Modi heard the question and stared impassively into nothing. The reporter repeated the question and Modi sat coldly stone-faced and expressionless. There was a long, awkward pause after which the flustered reporter moved to the next question.
Prime Minister Modi is not usually prone to long pauses, unlike, say, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When he does indeed opt for stony silence, it isn’t because his mind is feverishly searching for that devastating one-liner: His silences are premeditated and born of calculation.
Ever since the controversy surrounding former cricket czar Lalit Modi’s relationships with Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje hit the TV screens three weeks ago, the prime minister has been under pressure from both the media and the Opposition to comment. Despite incensed anchors coming precariously close to bursting a blood vessel and the Congress’ Jairam Ramesh taunting him as “Swami Maunananda”, he has chosen to not speak on the issue. He also appears to have also succeeded in ensuring that no one in his council of ministers has spoken a single word more than strictly necessary. The task of explaining or defending has been left to lesser BJP functionaries, with mixed results.
Modi has been lucky that the flood of Lalit Modi emails came under scrutiny during the summer break of Parliament. Had the storm erupted during the monsoon session beginning July 21, the prime minister would no doubt have been obliged to speak, even before the attacking side had exhausted its ammunition. Now, when he speaks in Parliament — as he will be obliged to — it will, presumably, follow the necessary political fine-tuning. The contours of the government’s defence shield are as yet unknown but it may not be rash to hazard one guess: Every effort will be made to delink the crisis management strategies from the controversy itself. The calculated silence that Modi maintained on Keshubhai’s almost-rebellion eight years ago may well be replicated, at least in essence.
A possible recourse to symbolism to address a political problem may offend the sensibilities of those attuned to the more direct ways of western democracies. However, apart from the grim reality of a boisterous parliamentary culture where the arguments have little place, Modi is keenly aware that any forthright prime ministerial intervention is a double-edged sword. While it has the virtue of taking the bull by its horns, there is the corresponding danger of the government losing its grip on the larger political narrative.
This is something that Modi has always sought to avoid. In Gujarat, he faced a sustained storm over his supposed culpability in the 2002 riots. However, while his friends and political associates confronted a viscerally hostile media with counter-arguments, the man himself refused all comments on the subject, particularly after winning the 2002 election. He even walked out of a TV interview on being pestered with questions on the riots. There was method in his obduracy: He wouldn’t allow the media and his opponents to divert attention from his set themes of Gujarati asmita and economic development.
It is this trait that has been on display over the past three weeks. Despite the sustained provocation and the adverse headlines, Modi has stuck to a script over which he has complete control. Therefore, World Yoga Day was all about India’s cultural inheritance and soft power; the Mann ki Baat radio address was devoted to the empowerment of women and the dignity of the girl child; and the Digital India Week speech was centred on securing a “digital push” and M-governance. 
During his ongoing eight-day visit of Central Asian countries, his gaze will be firmly on India’s footprint in the region, energy security and terrorism.
Undeniably, the political traction from this energetic pursuit of themes linked to national pride, social reform, technological excellence and foreign policy may well be somewhat diminished by the Lalit Modi-linked controversies — the powerful social message of the Mann ki Baat broadcast suffered a transmission loss thanks to the media determination to bring the prime minister down a notch or two. But Union finance minister Arun Jaitley wasn’t necessarily speaking in a personal capacity when he told reporters on Thursday that, “Some people may be of relevance to television channels; they have no relevance to governance as far as the Government of India is concerned.” Jaitley’s comments may appear uncharacteristically petulant, but compared to the feverish display of political evangelism on TV screens they seem a model of understated restraint.
Modi’s unbending reluctance to either respond or succumb to a magnificent display of political outrage — some real, others contrived — carries a measure of political risk for both him and the BJP. Having become accustomed to prime ministers who combined geniality with a suppleness of political will, many in the political class view Modi as an aberration. In his refusal to buy a short-term peace that could lead to the loss of political momentum, he is certainly different from anything India has seen for a long time.
There are ethical questions that the Lalit Modi controversy has raised. The prime minister will probably address these in a time and manner of his own choosing. 
For the moment he has asked a question that many leaders in his place have been afraid to pose: Who governs India? The elected government or a combine of the self-anointed and blackmailer?
The answer will have a bearing on the future course of politics. 
Hindustan Times, july 7, 2015


Anonymous said...

Mr.Swapan das gupta tried to justify the prime minister's silence by invoking Mr.Modi's past tricks and claim how successful he was to brush aside the questions asked to him by the reporters. In a democracy asking questions whether it be journalists,opposition or the civil society and the general public to the elected government and the prime minister is not tantamount to blackmailing as described by Mr.Swapan Gupta. The voters cannot be fooled by the explanation given by the intelectuals on the other side who tend to support right-wing politics and its leaders.

Dinesh said...

Well, Modi won't speak on controversies. He only suck to the senior MSM crooks in late night parties thrown at Jaitley residence.

Anonymous said...

well Mr. Bhakt, this bull shit piece of no use for us.... you can be rewarded for this idiotic articles for bharart ratna someday by Fekuji

Anonymous said...

#MrDalal the myopic degraded persons like will never be able to the logic, your hatred for everything related to #Modi has blinded you but then it doesn't matter

Anonymous said...

Just to please your master, dont term us as fools...

deepak kher said...

When the controversies became public, i too felt that the PM should have spoken out about the controversies but now in hindsight i feel he knew better. if one were to go by the mindless debates on TV channels, there would be no time for governance, only answering various allegations. am sure he will be asked to and he will after some disruptions, make a statement which may or may not satisfy the opposition parties.

in the mean time, the heat of debates has died down on the "National TV studios"

but he does need to express himself more often, this controversy and a few earlier ones, have to some extent dented his image which the Congress has been trying very hard to.

Anonymous said...

I think the PM is right in not reacting to the 'controversy of the day'. By reacting he will set a destructive precedent where public discourse will be hijacked away from all the nation building programmes that the government has been unfolding over the last year. The opposition has an increasingly feverish need to get Modi to deviate from his plans and programmes. With each program he has been chipping away at the opposition's voter base: universal bank accounts, pension for the poor, insurance for the poor, digital india, toilets for everyone. If one pays attention each of these had a large voter base that leaders in the opposition counted on. Now their power are being diminished step by step. Imagine at this rate, where will they stand in a year or two? or how much more the poor and the voiceless will look to Modi and the BJP to improve their lot? The opposition wants to change the inevitable by creating 'controversies' out of every issue; but Modi's reticence will not allow them to succeed in their agenda.

Anonymous said...


BETTER prime minister ignores this mindless noise by media and concentarte on his job of governanace

Anonymous said...

Modi has seen this for 14 years, he knows the CongI paid media wants to him to talk on all nonsense from Love Jihad, Ghar wapsi, comments from Sakshi maharaj, Lalit Modi an even on Monsoon delay. but he knows better, he says I do not have time for what CongI wants him to respond. He is committed to work for nation-people and not for Presstitutes

Prabhu said...

You have a late realization that Modi and BJP were wrong in blocking parliament sessions and tweeting that the then PM should make a statement on the different scams of his day. BJP is becoming more brazen and doublespeak is becoming clear everyday.

Anonymous said...

Looks like frustrated Congis are affected severely by this article

Anonymous said...

Good article, PM has been hounded by Self interest ppl, party & Media for so long, and I think it has made him even stronger & clear headed person. The noise of Cong is losing steam every day & media is not helping either to Cong

Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay said...

A very astute observation Sir.

- The 6 metro cities constitute less than 1% of India.
- People who are even remotely interested in English media constitute 1% of that 1%, or 0.01% of India.
- Of those 0.01%, the outraged twitterati and Adarsh Liberals constitute 1%.

So essentially the outraged Media demanding responses represents 0.0001% of India. And ironically they NEVER vote.

My maid who ACTUALLY votes thinks Burkha (Dutt) is the same as Hijab, and not a person. She doesn't care if the nation wants to know and for her thapar mean a slap and not some self-important comedian.

Shri Modi, who is slowly undoing decades of messups of Nehru and his hopeless descendants, is, as you rightly said, not allowing the discourse to be hijacked, by attention seeking lowlifes.

Shri Modi is focusing on nation building, which is an alien concept to Congress. and to our neighbors like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi and so on. Being Islamic states they have no concept of nationhood and instead believe in Islam building.

And so the Adarsh liberals are feeling outraged because nobody cares about them except the other 0.0001% Indian Adarsh Liberals.