Nowhere is it explicitly written in the Constitution of India that the Prime Minister should speak truthfully, and nothing but truthfully. Yet, the people of India, even those who are unlettered, expect him never to tell lies. In any case, the motto of the Republic – Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone triumphs) – casts an obligation on its highest political functionary to uphold truth in everything he says, especially when he speaks in Parliament, which is regarded as the temple of democracy.
Similarly, nowhere is it overtly stated in the text of the oath of office taken by the Prime Minister of India that he should speak and conduct himself like the Prime Minister of India. Yet, it is axiomatic that his conduct should be prime ministerial. In Hindi, there is an eloquent phrase for it – the pradhan mantri (Prime Minister) should never lower his ‘pad ki garima’ or, the dignity of his office.
Modi Crossed the Proverbial ‘Laxman Rekha’
Of course, a certain degree of political polemic is understandable in a vibrant multi-party system like India. After all, the Prime Minister must defend his government and, in doing so, would be required to criticise those criticising his policies and actions. In such criticisms and counter-criticisms, both the ruling party and the opposition often make statements of a partisan nature. Emotions run high, sparks fly, and, in the heat of the moment, both sides sometimes say things that do not stand up to close scrutiny. Yet, speaking outright lies and making malicious allegations against one’s opponents is never included in the permissible playbook of parliamentary debate.
Judged by these unwritten standards, it is most regrettable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches in Parliament on Monday and Tuesday contained many undignified untruths and dangerous accusations against the Congress. One does not have to be a supporter of the Congress to know that Modi crossed the proverbial ‘Laxman Rekha’.
Modi's Lies Betray Insensitivity
Lie No. 1: “Congress and Aam Aadmi Party Were Responsible for Spreading COVID-19”
Replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on the motion of thanks to the President, Modi said, “During the first wave, when we had lockdown, when the WHO [World Health Organization] was advising people to ‘stay wherever you are’ … the Congress at Mumbai’s railway stations gave tickets to workers to go and spread coronavirus. In Delhi, the government [run by AAP] used mics on jeeps in slums to go home, arranged buses.” The Prime Minister slammed these actions as "paap (sin)” and said this is how the virus spread in states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand. “You people [pointing at the opposition benches] pushed the labourers into difficulties,” he remarked.
This charge is not only baseless and ludicrous, but it also betrays extreme insensitivity towards the plight of migrant workers when Modi suddenly announced a nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020, with no planning and preparation whatsoever. One has to be either totally ignorant or utterly callous to be unaware of the panic and fear experienced by migrant workers in Mumbai, Delhi and other cities, when the lockdown came into effect.
The Least Political Parties Could Do
These are our own fellow Indians living in wretched conditions in urban slums with very little job security or social security. Many of them have their families back home in the villages of Uttar Pradesg, Bihar, Jharkhand and elsewhere. Faced with the unknown threat posed by an unfamiliar and life-threatening virus called ‘corona’, they were as concerned about their near and dear ones as they were about themselves.
Hence, their instinctive decision to leave their unsafe urban habitats and go to their village homes as soon as possible was completely understandable. They needed nobody’s instigation to do so.
In a situation like that, the very least political parties and social organisations could have done to help them was to provide food and facilitate their safe journey back home. There is no way Modi did not know that tens of thousands of them had already begun to walk hundreds of miles to reach their destinations.
This is when the Congress, the AAP and other parties, along with thousands of voluntary organisations and good samaritans, came forward to ease their travel with tickets, food and money.
Extending Modi's Own Logic
As a matter of fact, workers and supporters of the BJP, too, joined others in demanding the Central government’s urgent intervention to alleviate the suffering of migrant workers. Responding to this universal demand, the Modi government began running ‘Shramik Special’ trains from Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and other big cities. The then-Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal, and other BJP leaders even claimed this as a big achievement of their government and a proof of how much the Prime Minister cared for the poor. Modi could not have been unaware of the ‘Shramik Special’ trains and all the political discourse at the time.
It is important to recall here that COVID-19 vaccination had not yet begun then. Therefore, by extending Modi’s own twisted logic, his government was even more guilty of spreading the COVID-19 virus in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and elsewhere, than the Congress workers in Mumbai and the AAP government in Delhi.
Prime Minister or BJP's Verbal Warrior?
Lie No. 2: “The British rule ended in India long back, but the Congress adopted their policy of ‘divide and rule’, and has now become the leader of the Tukde Tukde gang. This may fuel separatism in India.”
When I heard this, I wondered with horror: “Is this Narendra Modi or Sambit Patra speaking in Parliament?’ BJP’s verbal warriors on TV channels and social media platforms are known to hurl such abuses at the Opposition, but for the Prime Minister of India to do so was unthinkable. But then, perhaps, people like me didn’t know that “Modi hai to kuch bhi mumkin hai” – anything is possible with Modi.
The Congress may be guilty of many faults during its long stint in governance and now in the Opposition, but to accuse it of wanting to break up India is an atrocious untruth. Can the Prime Minister offer even a shred of evidence that the Congress, after it began governing the nation in 1947, adopted the policy of ‘divide and rule’? Can he or anyone else in his party and its mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), present even a sliver of proof that the Congress conspired or acted to divide the country?
On the contrary, has the Prime Minister Modi forgotten that one of his own predecessors, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by forces that were conspiring to create Khalistan? Has he also forgotten that another of his predecessors, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by a terrorist organisation that had been conspiring to break up our neighbour, Sri Lanka, and that had it succeeded, it could well have aided and abetted secessionists in Tamil Nadu?
BJP's Lies & Slander Have Modi's Sanction
Actually, with Modi himself charging the Congress with the “crime” of leading the “Tukde-Tukde gang”, one thing has become crystal clear now: all the lies and slander his supporters have been mouthing against the Congress had his sanction. And this charge itself stems from a mindset that is as arrogant as it is dangerous. Those in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar think they alone can keep India united, and hence, all those opposing them are out to break the nation.
No wonder the words gaddaar (traitors) and deshdrohi (anti-nationals) have been weaponised like never before against their political and ideological opponents after Modi’s ascent to power in 2014. It is this very toxic mindset that made many of his supporters, including one who continues to be a Minister in his Cabinet, shout: “Desh ke gaddaaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” (Shoot the traitors of the nation.)
If Modi and his supporters continue with such diatribe against their political opponents between now and 2024 – and they most likely will – Indian society and Indian democracy will suffer enormous damage and debilitation.
In our democratic system of governance, every political party that swears by the Constitution has its legitimate place. The people are supreme and they decide which party or combination of parties should rule in states and at the national level. They have periodically voted in, and also voted out, parties of their choice. Therefore, it is preposterous for Modi to think that he can continue to indulge in untruths without incurring the disapproval of the people.
(Sudheendra Kulkarni served as an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is the founder of the Forum for a New South Asia. He has authored 'Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age'. His Twitter handle is @SudheenKulkarni and he welcomes comments at email@example.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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