Silence of the prime minister

The world remembered Martin Luther King Jr this month, on the 50th anniversary of his assassination on April 4, 1968. His struggle for justice, and his deeds and words, are still relevant in a world torn by hatred, discrimination and exclusion, and one sentence is particularly so. He said, “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people’’. An open letter written last week by 49 retired bureaucrats of the country and another written by over 600 academics from all over the world, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be seen in the light of this observation. The letters are an indictment of our society and polity, especially the government and the ruling party, which failed to protect the weak and the vulnerable and to live up to our civilisational values of tolerance, compassion and fellow feeling.

They were written with special reference to the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu and the rape of a young woman by an MLA in Uttar Pradesh. In both cases, the local BJP leaders, including ministers, shielded the perpetrators of the crimes. The prime minister spoke too little, too late and in too general terms about them. The bureaucrats noted that he spoke only when he could no longer ignore the public outrage. Silence over a crime is complicity, and that is why the letter described this as “post-Independent India’s darkest hour”. The writers found the prime minister and his party wanting and failing in their responsibility to society and the Constitution. The academics’ letter also mentioned the repeated attacks on minorities, Dalits and women and the “undeniable association of such violence with the ruling dispensation”.

It is easy to dismiss such criticism as biased, prejudiced and politically motivated. Such critics are insulted, shamed and abused by the propaganda and publicity machinery under the government and the ruling party. They are personally attacked and derided in vulgar terms on social media. There is no attempt to introspect and examine if there is an element of truth in their statements and to give reasoned answers to the questions they have raised. The bureaucrats are among the best administrators the country has had and the academics are some of the best minds in the world. Their words of protest and the call to stop the decline and degradation of values should be heeded to. The academics said that they wrote the letter so that they would not be guilty of silence, the same silence that Martin Luther King Jr spoke of.

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