Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on the horrific crimes against women in Manipur, which came to national attention with the surfacing of a viral video in which a mob is shown stripping two women naked and molesting them, seems genuine.
But his statement has been widely criticised for being too little, too late, or even an exercise in whataboutery.
He (20 July): “The incident of Manipur which has come to the fore is shameful for any civilisation. The country is shamed. I appeal to all chief ministers to strengthen laws to take stringent action against crime, especially against women. The incident might be from Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh or Manipur, the culprit should not go scot-free in any corner of the country,”
Critics are asking whether the Prime Minister was right to keep quiet on the Manipur violence, which has been going on for more than two-and-a-half months, and whether he was right to lump incidents in Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh along with Manipur.
They are both right and wrong. Right because a Prime Minister who believes in upholding the rights of women ought not to be seen to be silent when some such thing happens in a state controlled by his own party.
However, it is not true that he keeps silent only when his party may be partly to blame for allowing violence to continue for so long. The truth is, as a matter of personal policy or preference, Narendra Modi does not talk about any such law and order issues in any state, even if the crimes are committed against members of his own party or people who support his policies.
The Prime Minister has not spoken about the violence in West Bengal during the recent panchayat polls; he did not speak when Sangh and Left workers were busy killing one another in Kannur, Kerala; he did not speak when the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests targeted people from his own party; he did not speak when Kamlesh Tiwari was killed by Islamists in Uttar Pradesh for alleged blasphemy, or when Kanhaiya Lal and Umesh Kolhe were killed merely for showing support to Nupur Sharma; nor did he speak when a mob in Christian-majority Nagaland stormed a prison, extracted an accused, paraded him naked and lynched him to death for allegedly molesting a local girl in March 2015.
So, no, the Prime Minister is not guilty of shielding his own party when law and order goes to the dogs in some states, but he does so in all such cases involving any state. Whether he does this because law and order is a state subject, or because he does not believe in doing politics over such incidents, we do not know.
However, one thing is clear. It does not make sense for a Prime Minister to keep quiet when such crimes happen. He must speak out for two reasons: one is to avoid giving the impression that he is protecting the criminals; and second, because when a Prime Minister makes a neutral, non-politically-loaded statement condemning crime and criminals, it sends a strong message that he cares.
Some critics have also made the false allegation that Manipur has been spared President’s rule because it is ruled by Narendra Modi’s own party.
This is a dubious accusation for one cannot recall when any opposition-ruled state has ever been put under President’s Rule over such incidents.
But, yes, the PM must speak up more, and sooner.
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