Aruna Roy, Romila Thapar, Mrinal Pande, Jean Dreze, Anand Patwardhan and Mallika Sarabhai are among the prominent set of civil society activists who are signatories to a joint statement in which they have lashed out against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his silence on the brutal attack on Mohsin Shaikh, the Pune techie who was killed allegedly by members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena.
Press reports suggest that the statement also expresses concern on the resurgence of assaults particularly on writers, academicians and thinkers and seeks the deletion of "regressive legislations" such as section 66(A) of the IT Act which is being flagrantly misused to quell political dissent.
There are several of a lesser distinction who've been equally perplexed by Narendra Modi's decision not to voice his unequivocal condemnation of Shaikh's murder. He has, as it has turned out,had nothing to do with the circulation of morphed online photographs of Chhatrapati Shivaji that triggered the violence in Pune where fear seems to have gripped certain Muslim dominated boroughs. So much so that people have been driven to shave off beards and avoid skull caps in order to keep away from being targeted according to a Times of India report. Minor riots in the city, where Madrassas were being vandalized with orange flags hoisted over them were on for about a week before this incident took place, writes Rana Ayyub in the DNA.
What, if not such communal mischief must get the Prime Minister of India to wake up and assuage the disquiet that could be simmering among India's Muslims? Isn't Modi worried that his silence could be misconstrued, especially by those already suspicious of him, as an endorsement of such fringe activity? Shouldn't workers of the BJP and Shiv Sena who were also allegedly part of the violent protests that saw 130 buses and 20 vehicles damaged and a dozen injured in stone pelting know that their PM disapproves of such vandalism? What's really stopping him from issuing a simple message of commiseration for the victims when according to a report in this newspaper the PM sends out 10 to 15 communiqués per day through a combination of tweets, Facebook posts, press releases and announcements on a wide ranging set of subjects? Surely it's not that that his media team is pressed for time.
Regrettably silence is what Narendra Modi has often chosen on ticklish issues. He may've been an efficient communicator on social media, but has effectively shielded himself from any meaningful media questions. If under Manmohan Singh, there was an information deficit, under Modi there seems to be a dialogue deficit. We now have a Prime Minister who speaks far too often, but only after he hides behind the social media smokescreen. He does not believe in directly answering questions we may want to ask him. And it seems to be that we may soon have an entire government that is loathe to interaction with members of the press. Modi has reportedly asked his cabinet ministers to refrain from speaking to journalists letting only official spokespersons do the job according to Scroll.in.
If such caginess in the Prime Minister is unfortunate, what is even sadder is the fact that eminent members of the press and society - those that rallied behind Modi during the elections, seem to approve of this style. Journalist Tavleen Singh in her Sunday column for the Indian Express mockingly dismisses those that have sought a comment from the PM on the Pune violence.
''Tch, tch, tch, they said often last week, he should have spoken up when the young Muslim computer engineer was killed in that random attack by Hindu thugs in Pune'' Singh writes, speculating why Modi may not have demanded an explanation from Maharashtra's Congress Chief Minister. He wouldn't want to antagonize states with whom he needs to work to bring about the change and development he has promised she reckons.
The responses she received to her column were even more worrying.
Sample this -
"@dhume @tavleen_singh The public apparently thinks PM should be approached for everything including the clogged drain outside! :-) or :(", tweeted Arvind Virmani - Former Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India.
Is expecting the PM to speak out against the murder of an innocent professional the same as demanding his attention to clogged drains? This is the mother of all inappropriate statements, save Modi's own puppy remark. And weren't these the same set of people who clobbered Manmohan Singh for his silence on issues in general?
If for nothing else, then it is for the attention his silence is diverting from some of the brilliant initiatives the PM has set in motion in such a short span, that he must speak out. And even more so, because the admirers who've jumped to his defense are hampering rather than helping his case with their tactless remarks.