The Prime Minister recently revealed, in one of his few interviews, that he lacks criticism. “But, unfortunately, the number of critics is very low,” he said. “Most of the time people are just making claims, more people are playing perception games.” It is with these words in mind that I clarify before going any further that I consider myself an honest critic. But, what I want to start with is neither an allegation nor a criticism but a simple statement of facts. On a narrow dirt road in Lakhimpur Kheri last week, a cavalcade of SUVs, at least one of them belonging to the Minister of State for the Interior, Ajay Kumar Mishra, charged at high speed on a group protesting farmers, and when they were mowed down, rolled over their bodies.
Hours later, the Prime Minister arrived in Lucknow, not far from the site of the killings, and delivered a speech on urbanization and the progress he was helping India to make in that direction. Beside him stood the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who also behaved as if he had no idea that eight people had died in a crime committed with such sickening cruelty that the videos were difficult to watch. After four men were crushed to death, rabid farmers took their own action and killed three people who were traveling in the cars of the minister’s convoy. A young journalist was also killed and his family claim that his body had wheel marks on his body, although the BJP propaganda machine tried to report that he had been beaten to death by farmers. These are the hard facts.
Now comes an allegation. I find it shocking that after such a horrific incident, there has not been a single word of condemnation from the Prime Minister, who likes to remind every now and then that he is indeed the Pradhan Sevak (first servant ) of the people of India. If he really believes this, then doesn’t he feel the pain of what happened? Doesn’t he feel the need to say something? Or does he agree with the view expressed by the man whose car mowed the farmers down that they should be taught a lesson? Sadly, he gave a speech saying this, days before his cavalcade turned into a killing machine. Sadly, the chief minister of the BJP of Haryana gave an equally threatening speech just before this horrific incident, so the Prime Minister’s silence makes it seem like these speeches were made with his assent. It is an allegation.
Let me now return to my role as critic. The Prime Minister is not a man with long silences. Almost every day, he is heard tweeting or speaking. Sometimes he tweets several times a day. When something horrible happens in a faraway land, it almost always offers pity and condolence. Why is it so hard for him to tweet when something horrible happens in India?
The past week has been truly horrible. The horror of Lakhimpur Kheri was barely beginning to be felt when a series of murders occurred in Srinagar. A beloved Hindu chemist was killed in his shop. Two teachers were asked about their religion and when they turned out to be non-Muslim, they were killed by jihadist monsters who came to chase Hindus and Sikhs to kill. In their killing spree, they also managed to kill a few Muslims, but the pattern is so reminiscent of the time 20 years ago when Hindus were ethnically cleansed from the Kashmir valley that it’s hard not to believe that it is not a similar exercise. Why does the Prime Minister not feel the need to talk or at least tweet?
Last week he tweeted his greetings to our “Air Warriors” on Air Force Day. He sent greetings to Navratri. He thanked those who wished him to mark the twentieth anniversary of his career as a civil servant. He tweeted on “the honor of inaugurating oxygen plants across India”. And, there have been many more tweets of similar banality. Could he not find a few minutes to express his horror at the killings of Lakhimpur Kheri and Kashmir? It’s a veiled review in a question.
Now here are some open reviews. Prime Minister, I am of the opinion that you surrounded yourself with so many sycophants and minions of the time that you began to treat your detractors as enemies. This is easy to do when the illusion that India, because of you, has become a land of endless good times (achche din) is backed by an army of aggressive trolls who see all critics as “anti- nationals ”and who accuse anyone who dares to say anything against you with high treason. In such an atmosphere, it’s easy to mistake real critics for enemies, easy to be fooled into believing that sycophants are your only real friends. They are not.
They hurt you like sycophants always do. You say in that same interview that you “attach great importance to criticism” and that you “respect criticism a lot”. It’s time for you to start showing that you are doing it, for your political instincts, which have always been remarkably sharp, seem to have dulled. Or you would have expressed outrage at the murders of last week.