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  Opinion   Columnists  24 Jul 2023  Aakar Patel | What’s to gain by avoiding any problem… What is there to lose?

Aakar Patel | What’s to gain by avoiding any problem… What is there to lose?

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Jul 25, 2023, 12:54 am IST
Updated : Jul 25, 2023, 12:54 am IST

The Prime Minister demoted the issue and signalled to the rest of the BJP and the pliant media not to speak about it.

 People participate in a peace march organised by the Manipur Students' Union in Imphal, Monday, July 24, 2023, (PTI Photo)
  People participate in a peace march organised by the Manipur Students' Union in Imphal, Monday, July 24, 2023, (PTI Photo)

What is gained when I avoid acknowledging that I have a problem? And what, if anything, is lost? The Prime Minister conceded there was violence in Manipur after 79 days of pretending that there wasn’t.

A video that was two months old and produced outrage that returned Manipur to the public debate forced him to speak. The Chief Justice of India also said angry words and the police in Manipur, which had been dormant for all that period, immediately made arrests on a case it had ignored.

Why did it take all this time? It did because the Prime Minister demoted the issue and signalled to the rest of the BJP and the pliant media not to speak about it. When the incident, and others like it, were actually happening, he was in Bengaluru holding roadshows. He put off one roadshow, not because of Manipur but because it would clash with exams and he did not want to inconvenience students. He continued with the others.

After that, he went abroad a couple of times, attending parties and watching parades. Within India, he continued his routine of train flagging-off and inaugurations and felicitations of people on their birthdays and so on. He made not a single reference to Manipur.

The question is, again, what does one gain in not acknowledging that there is a problem even if the problem is obvious to everyone else?

The first thing is to signal that it is not my problem. If my house is on fire then I will rush to save it. If my family is under attack, I will hasten to protect it. If I not only do not act, but if I pretend as if nothing happened, then I do not concede that it is my problem. And therefore, I do not have to solve it.

That is the second advantage: I avoid having to deal with a difficult situation immediately and it is possible that it will go away on its own. In a previous column, I spoke about how this was the tack the Prime Minister used during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Normally visible every day at some event, whether physically or virtually, he disappeared for 20 days after cancelling his West Bengal rallies. While hundreds of thousands of people perished, desperate without oxygen and the crematoria overflowed, he was gone.

He returned three weeks later when things were better and fewer people were dying and made a show of having “high-level meetings”. A BJP resolution from earlier in the year that said India defeated the Covid-19 pandemic under Narendra Modi was removed from the party’s website. Once the wave subsided, he moved on from the subject completely.

He also did the same thing after the Galwan incident. There has been no military briefing more than three years after the clash. The only brief statement he made on the issue came after days of silence and then he was silent about it again.
The third advantage that I have in not acknowledging a problem is that in some sense I can keep my image intact. My followers and devotees (who number many in the case of the Prime Minister) will not have to suffer the trauma of seeing me accept something wrong has happened under my watch. The other benefit of this is that because their devotion continues, I can also accept to myself that I have done nothing wrong. If so, many people continue to believe in me, then my actions are right and so are my acts of inaction.

What else? There may be some smaller benefits. Perhaps some people only remember the bluster of claims and not the avoidance of bad news. How many times have we heard that India is the fastest growing economy? Many continue to believe we are, but, as a newspaper reported on July 22: "India is no more the fastest-growing large economy. Saudi Arabia is with 8.7 per cent growth in 2022, followed by Vietnam at 8 per cent. In the first quarter of 2023, the Philippines bettered India, at 6.4 per cent.”

If I avoid talking about the “fastest growing” at this point completely and surface again a few years later, then many will feel that I have always been on top.

Let us now turn to what is lost when I, as a leader, avoid acknowledging that there is a problem. The first is that the problem will continue and often, as was the case in Manipur, it will get worse. How many more people died, how many more women and girls were assaulted, how many more houses were burnt because the Government of India ignored the problem? Perhaps the historians will tell us because most of our media will not.

The second one is that people will take advantage. Why should the chief minister of Manipur resign when there is no problem, according to the Prime Minister himself? When there was some external pressure, he made a drama of resigning, but remained because he was smart enough to know that he could use the silence to his advantage, and he did.

The third one is that the nation, this nation, can continue in its stupor that it is marching towards greatness, and not be distracted by the fires that are burning inside. Perhaps this behaviour of avoidance comes from cold calculations made by the Prime Minister, or perhaps it comes from instinct. Whichever is true, there is sufficient evidence in Year 10 to show what its benefits to him are and what its damage to us.

Tags: manipur violence, prime minister narendra modi, government of india