February 21, 2017 1:43:00 pm
Dear Prime Minister Modi,
I have no partisan interest in Indian politics. I only wish to see India prosper and progress as a country that cherishes democracy and exudes inclusion, compassion, equality and justice. Since there are over a billion Indians, there may be over a billion ideas on how India could become that country that most Indians dream of. But most Indians would agree upon one thing: that democracy, freedom and free flow of ideas and debates are essential to building the India of their dreams.
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It is about the Indian democracy and the pivotal role and responsibility of the Prime Minister in nurturing healthy, vibrant and freest debates and exchanges of ideas. I have been reading some of your speeches. You have a tremendous gift of the gab. You are a master of words and master manipulator of language. An ease of the political idiom is not something all politicians are blessed with; but you are. As a Prime Minister you have the responsibility to be a role model for other Indians. I understand politics and particularly election campaigns can turn nasty. As Prime Minister one can’t ever afford to be nasty.
It was absolutely improper for the former PM Manmohan Singh to intemperately call demonetisation “loot”, “plunder” and “scam”. Demonetisation was not necessarily the best or the best executed initiative of your government. But only a much lesser mortal like me may be forgiven for using such language as was used by Manmohan Singh. Such interjections in important debates only serve to drag them into the gutter of ad hominem attacks.
Evidently you have been recently making many statements including the one about the “raincoat” that do not behove a Prime minister either. While most of your statements diminished the important debates of the Indian democracy, you could be forgiven as given to hyperbole, particularly in the election campaigns.
But your “janampatri” statement was extremely shocking, authoritarian and unbecoming of the Prime Minister of the largest democracy of the world. It was crude, pedestrian and dangerous. You belittled free speech in an election campaign–threatening dire consequences for the opposition if it criticised you. For context your core massage was:
“Mein Congress ke logon se kehta hoon: jabaan sambhaal kar rakho, warna mere paas aapki poori janam patri padi hui hai (hold your tongue, I have your entire horoscope),” shows an authoritarian streak. “Mein vivek aur maryadayein chhorna nahin chahta hoon, lekin agar aap vivek, maryadayein chhor kar ke anaap shanaap baaten karoge to aapko aapka itihas kabhi chhorega nahin, aapke kukarm aapko chhorenge nahin, aapka paap aapko chhodenge nahin (I do not want to abandon reason and propriety, but if you abandon reason and propriety and speak nonsense, your history will always chase you, your evil deeds, your sins will always chase you),” he said.
Coming from the Prime Minister of India these remarks felt absurd. They appeared to belong more in the mouth of an astrologer from Haridwar than on the lips of the Prime Minster of India; more the words of a dictator than a democrat. They severely cheapened the office of the Prime Minister.
The weirdest thing about them was the threat you made about exposing the Congress’ past misdeeds from the Janampatri that you allegedly have. It was a most vacuous declaration. Firstly, the Janampatris are predictions about the future, not journals about the past. Secondly, it is impossible to expose something already suffering from overexposure. The Congress’ past, including the recent inglorious past, is already well known to today’s India. That is why the Congress Party is fast losing what little remains of its feeble presence in India. Thirdly, in an unprimeministerial fashion you warned and implied that if the opposition keeps speaking nonsense you too “will abandon reason and propriety” and respond in kind. A Prime Minister has no business threatening to “lose reason and propriety”, let alone actually lose it. It makes me sad not for you — because Prime Ministers come and go — but for India; that its Prime Minister in making that veiled threat had actually lost all “reason and propriety”.
Worst of all you warned the opposition, “Jabaan sambhaal kar rakho, warna –“. Such ominous words coming from a Prime Minister struck with me a frightening authoritarian chord. They must have sent shivers down the spines of Indians who still vividly remember Indira Gandhi’s draconian Emergency of 40 years ago. “Warna” is the word most used by the powerful and arrogant — or rather the arrogant powers. You became at the moment of using “warna” the arrogant power. In making the statement you were no longer the “public servant” Prime Minister. You became a dictatorial politician and a potentially dangerous Prime Minister.
In a democracy the zabaan, written or spoken, is the most important, powerful and the only acceptable tool to challenge power — in particular the power of government. When you asked the opposition to “zabaan sambhaal kar rakho“, the thoughtful and democratic India heard you telling the opposition to shut up –“warna“. Your words reeked of despotism. They carried an implicit threat: Opposition, shut up…warna. Those are not the words, nor the sentiments that would ever build a greater and fairer India.
Prime Minister, I urge you to be careful and constructive in the political discourse you engage in or encourage. Democracy is a delicate institution that requires tender loving care from its highest guardians such as you the Prime minister. Let the freest flow of ideas reign. Let robust debates happen. But always debate with patience, love and respect…warna you and India may be at the risk of deviating from the egalitarian, inclusive and glorious dreams of Indians and India’s founders. That would be a real tragedy.
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