Friday, January 27, 2023

Silent PM

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In a country used to noise, Modi’s decision to work quietly has not really gone down well with many.

By NV Subramanian


There is a growing chorus of criticism that Narendra Modi is as reserved as prime minister as he was outspoken during the 2014 general election campaign. Com-parisons are being made to Manmohan Singh. His silence, especially on various sectarian incidents, has drawn particular attention. Should Prime Minister Modi open up? It is his decision. Reserve generally suits a prime minister and heads of governments as such. His government can be more communicative, however, to remove misunderstandings and some repair, appa-rently, is underway in that direction.

In practising strategic silence, Modi is different from Manmohan Singh, who was Sonia Gandhi’s nominal prime minister. This writer did not watch Modi closely as Gujarat’s chief minister; but those who did, see a similarity of style in his present taciturnity and composure. Even without the benefit of that history, it is obvious that Narendra Modi has chosen quiet over loquacity. He has often said that he wishes his work to speak for him and his government. But his general uncommunicativeness is also an attempt to insulate the prime ministry from the daily conflagrations that confront government.

It is not as if the prime minister has not spoken. In parliament, he condemned the random killing of a Muslim youth from Pune and the murder and rape of two girls in Uttar Pradesh, seeking general compassion for womenfolk. But the nature of his office is such that he ought not to be heard often, because it would rob the weight of his sentiment.

All over the world, wise political leaders weigh their words. They are acutely aware of the consequences of their articulation. In exceptional circumstances, they would be compelled to break out of the mould of silence. In war, the leader cannot be silent and is responsible to keep up morale of his forces and of his people, and to challenge the enemy. In the event of national disaster, the head of government is expected to rally the broken citizenry, but in words and deeds equally. It differs from situation to situation.

In no case must the prime minister speak more than is absolutely necessary.

India has a talkative culture. It is possibly the noisiest country in the world. These high noise levels have done the country no good. After Indian films, the news television studios are noisiest places. Unless participants in a debate come to blows, it cannot be deemed a good night. Narendra Modi’s silence ruins everything for news channels. There is no noise from the prime minister’s office. This destroys their TRPs. Clearly, the media is fueling the Narendra-Modi-is-not-talking controversy.

Do the people care? Not really, so long prices are low and the quality of life improves. This has not happened and it is too soon to expect it to either. But volubility will not mend matters. What is Modi supposed to do? Be on Doordarshan every night to assuage people that the “good days” are imminent?

There is a communication gap; but it is not necessary for the prime minister to fill it. The government has been speaking, but perhaps not in an organized way. For example, assorted Union ministers have corrected distortions apropos Telangana-Sania Mirza, Shiv Sena lawlessness in Delhi’s Maharashtra Sadan, the Hindi issue, etc. Narendra Modi chose to speak in English at a satellite launch ceremony in Andhra Pradesh. It is not that the government is not reaching out. But the nature of the beast is to be slow and awkward.

News reports say that Prime Minister Modi has finalized a joint government-party mechanism to address gaps in communication. But there is no call for the prime minister to speak more than is absolutely necessary. Silent waters run deep. This noisy country needs to remember that once in a while.

Media criticism of government is valid, provided it is not deviously motivated. But the media hates to turn the spotlight on itself. The editor who took `60 lakh to suppress tapes about a parliament scandal escaped scot-free and can be heard now and then lecturing about journalistic integrity! A popular or hated television anchor—have your pick—volunteered to do a “positive” programme on a jailed celebrity for the price of Rs. 5 crore. The offer was scorn-fully rejected. Talk of the pot calling the kettle black.

—NV Subramanian is editor, and writes on politics and strategic affairs.


IT is the expectations that are now coming to roost. It is not just that the PM is silent on issues but a lot of flak is also for the inaction, be it in the case of reining in lumpen elements or taking strong decisions on the economy. The expectations from Modi government were sky high and these expectations were nurtured by Modi himself during the elections.

One might call it election rhetoric and let it pass but in a democracy, when a party can move from 2 seats to 282 seats and a party with 400+ seats comes crashing down to 44, things move very fast and this disenchantment has to be kept in mind because the people are restless. It looks as if the system seems to be overpowering and by that what I mean is two things —

1) the stranglehold of babudom, which got reflected in the budget (which many of my friends say was the bureaucrats’ revenge and 2) succumbing to perennial election trap. The federal government cannot keep overlooking things or to put it crudely appeasing some state or the other—a la train fare rollback for Maharashtra or the UPSC farce being run around now for the sake of UP and Bihar by-elections.

On the economy itself it is a messy scenario—empty coffers, poor monsoon—but signaling in the budget would have helped. People were ready for a harsh budget and even Modi mentioned sometime/somewhere that this budget it would be a bitter pill to swallow for a better tomorrow, but the bitter pill never came.

People are willing to buy the government argument that it did not have time and so are willing to forgive the current budget (but I would say a fantastic lost opportunity) which was clearly lackluster—a rehash of Chidambaram’s budget. However if in February 2015 the government fails to deliver what one calls a “blockbuster” budget like Chidambaram’s “dream” budget then people would be unforgiving and not before long this government would be anointed as UPA- III. I know I am speaking with a very narrow blinker’s on approach with the economy in focus, but that’s the
miracle which can usher India out of the mess.

— A reader

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  1. sir, while too many media persons, politicians, partisan and non-partisan thinkers, have focused on the muslim discontentment and unhappiness, has any of them given a serious thought why it’s so, and investigated the causes thereto? i’ve had an occasion to brood on this thousands of miles away from new delhi. here in the usa where i write from, all citizens are equal, nobody demands any special rights, concessions, or favor from obama. but in india, only muslims always demand and expect the government to shower all the benefits on them. on the other hand, has anybody ever thought why are only muslims so backward, and who’s responsible for their plight? does anyone dare say– they, muslims, themselves are responsible.even the great rajinder sacher and his commission did not do this, didn’t have the guts to say. if sacher had the courage to say this, he would be nowhere today, and his commission would have been relegated to dustbin of history. the fact of the matter is that while this majority community wants all the goodies of good life bestowed on them perennially, they are not ready to give back to the country anything, except complaints, grievances. look at the kashmiris, they want pakis to help them, but are not ready to cooperate with the powers that be in delhi to help them. on a sly of disputes, there are bandhs, strikes, shutdowns, hartals, protests in the valley only. while the common people there are tired of all this nonsense, geelanis, shabirs, muftis, abdullahs, bashirs and all tom and dick and harrys of kashmiris, blindly support them. the hard reality doesn’t strike these foolhardy men and women asking for more, but not being ready to do more for themselves, or for their community, and the least for the country, india. they are waiting for new delhi to invite pakis leaders so that they can meet them in pak high commission office in delhi and take tea with that instigator in chief, abdul basit.
    unless they are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with the powers that be in delhi, can any rational human being imagine the crying problems of poverty, backwardness be sorted out? no. so, it’s in the interest of all of us to contribute our mite, and see excellent results of prosperity,wealth, happiness flowing from our these efforts.——mrdua, usa,

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