Manipur-If Rahul Gandhi could fly to Manipur to experience the anguish of those whose broken lives and damaged houses have forced them into refugee camps in their own state, then why has the Prime Minister not found time to go?
The reason why political leaders are called leaders is because they are expected to lead. Their leadership becomes crucial in times of violence and instability. If Manipur has continued to burn for nearly three months, it is because we have seen a troubling absence of leadership. Both in Delhi and Imphal. The Prime Minister finally spoke last week. He stated his heart was filled with ‘pain and rage’. And, that all of India was mortified by the footage of two naked ladies being harassed by a crowd of armed men who then went on to reportedly gangrape the younger woman. They had already killed her father and went on to kill her brother when he tried to save his sister. The story is now well known and too horrific to retell.
For this columnist what has been more shocking than the video of two naked women being abused is the lack of leadership that has taken Manipur to this pass. I say this because the unpleasant truth is that women are routinely stripped and paraded in our villages. This is such common cruelty across India that it rarely makes news. If you check over the angry tweets by the BJP’s troll army on Twitter last week you will see that numerous messages point out just this. When I posted that the first thing that must happen is for the Chief Minister of Manipur to be removed, my timeline was swamped with tweets from BJP supporters uploading photographs of naked women being paraded openly in Rajasthan and West Bengal. They demanded to know why I was not asking for the chief ministers of these states to resign.
This terrible reaction to what transpired in Manipur undermined the value of what the Prime Minister said. It is time he learned that his deadliest opponents are the two-rupee trolls that the BJP’s IT division recruits. You only need to read one of their tweets to see that they are recruits without sensibility, sympathy, or basic humanity. The BJP would also do well to fire its spokeswomen. They normally sound like mad harridans, but they outdid themselves last week.
They did womankind no service by wailing about how what happened in Manipur happens in other states. If they felt they were protecting their party, they ended up doing the opposite. More than the BJP they wounded the Prime Minister by discrediting his rare show of leadership in a time of distress. Narendra Modi’s comments of pain and wrath were nullified even more since the day after he spoke prominent BJP leaders came forward to demand belligerently why states run by opposition chief ministers were not coming in for harsher scrutiny. These comments highlighted that it is not just BJP trolls that need to demonstrate compassion and sensitivity but prominent BJP leaders as well. But this will only happen when leadership emanates from the very top as it always must in difficult situations.
From a personal chat I had with Narendra Modi in 2016 I learnt that it was his considered policy not to speak out against incidents of violence and intolerance. I happened to see him days after Mohammad Akhlaq became the first Muslim to be lynched by cow vigilantes and although the meeting was set for me to give him with a copy of my new book, we ended up chatting of many subjects. During this talk I asked him why he had expressed not one word of condemnation about this awful lynching. His explanation was that something awful happened every other day somewhere or other in India and if he started condemning every horrifying act, he would have little time to accomplish anything else.
Perhaps. But real leaders are those whose leadership is visible in the worst of times. There are legitimate reasons why American presidents make it a point to come up personally to comfort parents whose children have been killed in a school shooting and to comfort the families of people who have been wrongly killed by law enforcement officials. It is in moments like those when the leadership of a leader comes into question and leaders who do not know this will justifiably be questioned about the quality of their leadership.
If the Prime Minister had spoken up earlier about the horrible, persistent violence that has gone on in Manipur for nearly three months, it is likely that peace might have returned sooner. Did he not do this since it is a ‘double-engine’ BJP administration that currently rules Manipur? If this was the reason, then with all humility I would want to point out that it may have been a severe mistake. What makes this blunder more reprehensible is that Kuki women travelled to Delhi immediately after the violence erupted to protest outside the Home Minister’s residence. They told reporters that the violence against the Kuki village was so brutal that a mob had set fire to an ambulance in which a mother was transporting her little kid to the hospital. Why did alarm bells not start ringing then?
If Rahul Gandhi could fly to Manipur to experience the anguish of those whose broken lives and damaged houses have forced them into refugee camps in their own state, then why has the Prime Minister not found time to go? When leaders fail to lead when leadership is actually needed, they cannot escape being asked questions exactly like this.