Would you care to say something, PM?

Would you care to say something, PM?

Most of the deaths related to cow vigilantism have taken place after the Modi government came to power in 2014, and almost all of them in states ruled by the BJP. Mob lynchings for other reasons are also increasing, and they are signs of a breakdown of the rule of law. ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is a pious religious chant, sacred to millions of people, but it has been turned into a murderous cry, as the letter has rightly said.

It is not for the first time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention has been drawn to some recent trends in the country which have the potential to disrupt social harmony and national unity, and which are grossly violative of the principles that underlie our nationhood and the country’s constitutional values. Even without being told, the prime minister should have known how serious these threats are. But he has not gone beyond making routine, often belated, expressions of unhappiness or passing remarks and offering pieces of advice which in any case are not followed and obeyed. That is why he has to be reminded of his responsibilities again, and the 49 artists, writers, film-makers, historians and social scientists who wrote an open letter to him last week about the increasing incidents of mob lynching and the communal weaponisation of the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chant in the country have done exactly that. 

Most of the deaths related to cow vigilantism have taken place after the Modi government came to power in 2014, and almost all of them in states ruled by the BJP. Mob lynchings for other reasons are also increasing, and they are signs of a breakdown of the rule of law. ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is a pious religious chant, sacred to millions of people, but it has been turned into a murderous cry, as the letter has rightly said. Muslims are being forced to shout the slogan, and even a lawmaker in Jharkhand was pressurised by a minister to do so. The letter also noted that the critics of the government are dubbed ‘anti-nationals’ and reminded the prime minister that the ruling party is not synonymous with the country. Doesn’t the prime minister consider these to be dangerous trends? Aren’t they incompatible with his motto of ‘sab ka vishwas’? 

The prime minister has not cared to reply to the letter. The Union Home ministry has put out a bland denial and claimed disingenuously that matters related to law and order are in the states’ domain. But the political ecosystem for the attacks has been prepared by the government and the ruling party. There is a public statement in whataboutery mode from some other artists and others who are supporters of the government and the prime minister. They have not answered the concerns raised in the letter but have calumniated the writers. A Union minister has said that the writers of the letter have tried to politicise ordinary acts of criminality. One signatory, film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan has been told by a BJP leader to “go to the moon”. It is not clear whether the prime minister supports these responses.