New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said he welcomed “constructive criticism” and there should be enough space in public life for “differing streams” to listen to each other’s point of view. There should be continuous dialogue in society irrespective of differing views, the prime minister asserted. People with differing views do not have to agree on everything but there must be “enough civility in public life for differing streams to be able to hear each other’s point of view…”, he said. He was addressing the Malayala Manorama News Conclave in Kochi via a video link from here.
“Here I am, at a forum where perhaps I do not have many whose thought process is similar to mine but there are enough thinking people whose constructive criticism is something I greatly look forward to,” Modi told the gathering. It is usually believed that public figures prefer to be on forums whose thought process matches with the person’s own world view because there is a lot of comfort in being among such people, he said.
“Of course, I also cherish being among such surroundings but, at the same time, I believe there must be a constant and continuous dialogue between individuals and organisations irrespective of one’s thought process,” Modi said.
Referring to the “spirit of new India”, Modi said a culture in which aspiration became a bad word was perpetrated for many years. Doors opened depending on one’s surname or contacts.
“Success depended on whether you belonged to an old boy’s club. Big cities, big institutions and big families this is all that mattered,” the prime minister said. The economic culture of “License Raj and Permit Raj struck at the heart of individual ambitions” but India was changing for the better, he stressed. “This is an India where the surnames of the youth do not matter. What matters is their ability to make their own name,” he said.
The prime minister referred to several changes in governance, saying they were earlier deemed “impossible”. “In a state like Haryana, it was not thinkable that recruitment for government jobs could be done transparently. But now people are talking about the transparent manner in which recruitment took place.”
Earlier people asked whether they will be able to remove policy paralysis, but things had changed, Modi said. “Today people say we will… the spirit has changed,” he added.
Referring to the “citizen-centric governance” of his regime, he said over 1.5 crore homes for the poor have been constructed at a rapid pace.
“We were conscious of the fact that we were not creating houses, but were building homes. We needed to move away from the concept of merely constructing four walls. Our approach was to deliver more facilities, deliver more value, deliver in less time and deliver at no extra cost,” Modi said. His government does not only care about people living in India, but diaspora settled abroad, he said.
“When Indian nurses were captured in different parts of West Asia, no stone was left unturned to bring them back home. The same spirit was seen when Father Tom, another son of Kerala, was captured,” the prime minister said.
Father Tom Uzhunnalil was freed after being kept in captivity suspectedly by the ISIS for 18 months in strife-torn Yemen. One of the highlights of his recent visit to Bahrain was that the Royal Family pardoned 250 Indians serving sentences there, he said. Similar pardons have been granted by Oman and Saudi Arabia, he said.
Civility? Here’s what Modi has been subjected to
Modi has been subjected to barbs, of the type not considered civil, on numerous occasions, mostly during election campaigns but also at other times. Mostly again, the abuses have worked to Modi’s advantage. Here are the 10 most well-known instances.
- During the 2007 Gujarat election campaign, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had called Modi “Maut ka Saudagar” (merchant of death) with respect to the 2002 communal riots which broke out in the state within four months of his becoming the chief minister of the state. Of course, the BJP turned it into an advantage, as the party ruling Gujarat turned the personal attack into an attack on Gujarati pride. The BJP retained power in that 2007 election while the Congress failed to make a comeback. Voters by and large considered the “Maut ka Saudagar” comment unfair because the incidents of five years ago qualified as riots, where the members of both the communities, Hindus and Muslims, had lost their lives. It was not a one-sided pogrom like the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other places in 1984 following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
- Before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, at the heat of the election campaign, Mani Shankar Aiyar, the former joint secretary of the Congress, had said there was no chance of Modi ever becoming the prime minister of the country. “However, if he so wishes, he is free to serve tea at the AICC headquarters,” Aiyar had said. This was taken for an insult to democracy and an assault on the dignity of labour. In a democracy, every citizen with the requisite bona fides has the right to contest in elections and get elected, even if one had started as a tea seller, which Modi was during his childhood. The BJP campaign team turned the jibe into its advantage by launching the “Chai pe Charcha” drive, which saw people across the country assemble in groups over cups of tea to make a pledge to vote for Modi in large numbers.
- In 2016, then Congress vice -president Rahul Gandhi, while addressing a rally in Margao, Goa, continued his barbs on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and called him feku (a person who continuously brags and lies about everything). Alright, the spelling should have been phenku, the first consonant being a nasalised bilabial aspirate, but such an orthography might not have been ‘user-friendly’. Rahul Gandhi had borrowed the word already in circulation to critique demonetisation, but the Uttar Pradesh election that followed gave a thumbs up to note-bandi, as it is called in Hindi. However, neither BJP nor Modi ever devised a way to counter the charge that the current prime minister bluffs. The “feku” charge stuck more because BJP president Amit Shah had said in an interview that the figurative promise to transfer Rs 15 lakh to the bank account of every Indian was a “jumla“. A Gujarati, Shah might have meant this was a “way of saying” or putting things in a certain perspective. But it was more popularly interpreted as an admission that Modi had lied during the 2014 campaign (there is no evidence he had made such a promise).
- Rahul Gandhi slammed Modi again for doing politics over the LoC surgical strikes in 2016 and accused the prime minister of doing khoon ki dalali (cashing in on the death of soldiers in Uri who had fallen to the bullets of Pakistani terrorists). Modi did not have to do much to counter this abuse. In the major state elections that followed, the BJP continued with its winning spree and the Congress went on losing that year and also in 2017. The surgical strikes carried out in retaliation to the terror attack on the Indian Army camp in Uri, announced to India by the DGMO and not Modi, had filled the people with a sense of pride for the nation and a decisive civilian government that gave the soldiers a free hand to avenge the unfair deaths of their fellows. Finally, two years later, the Balakot airstrike in response to the Pulwama killing of CRPF jawans by Pakistan-spinsored terrorists gave Modi-led BJP a decisive edge over the electoral competition. Rahul, in the meantime, may or may not have learnt the lesson that he should never cast aspersions on nationalism. The rudest jolt was delivered to him when he had to step down as the Congress president following another rout in the Lok Sabha election of 2019.
- The incorrigible Aiyar was not done. He did not draw lessons from his 2017 act of shooting from the hips where he had referred to Modi as “neech“. While he might have meant “vile”, Modi had turned it into his advantage by linking it to his OBC status. Modi interpreted “neech” as a low-born, thus drawing sympathy of all the backward classes. The stupid Aiyar was but undaunted. At the nick of time before the 2019 election, he said he stood vindicated! Repeating the folly of his then party president, he wrote an article to slam Modi who had claimed he had given the IAF the idea that clouds could be used as an advantage during the Balakot airstrike to avoid our fighter planes getting detected by the enemy radar. This was another attack on nationalism. People rewarded the Congress with a resounding defeat.
- In 2019, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, N Chandrababu Naidu described Modi as Mahishasura (a buffalo demon that was slain by Goddess Durga). Naidu said Modi had to be defeated by the “Bengal Durga”, referring to the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, in order to bring peace to the country. Not only was Naidu’s TDP defeated in Andhra Pradesh, even Banerjee’s Bengal fortress was breached by the BJP in the national election.
- Banerjee, recently in May, said, referring to the prime minister’s statement of a collapsing law-and-order in Bengal owing to hooliganism and extortion by Trinamool activists, “I feel like slapping him.” Mamata also likened Modi to Ravana, Duryodhana and Duhshasana (villainous characters in the Ramayana and Mahabharata). A seasoned politician that Modi is, he did not hit back, sensitive to the fact that the opponent was a woman who had to be answered in a dignified manner. He said, “I call you didi (elder sister). You have a right to slap me, but answer my questions about the condition of Bengal.”
- Former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi, in May, while replying to a question from the media house about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra calling Modi Duryodhana, said that the Congress general secretary should have called the prime minister a jallad (an executioner).
- Rabri Devi also foulmouthed the politicians of JD(U), the BJP, along with Modi as naali ka keeda (gutter snipes). Her frustration could be understood. Her husband Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had made her famous as a proxy chief minister, was serving a jail term, having been convicted in two of the cases of fodder scam. Modi or the BJP did not have to devise a strategy to counter Rabri Devi. Her RJD did not stand a chance in the 2019 election, as Tej Pratap and Tejashwi Yadav, the sons of Lalu and Rabri, kept the party busy in managing their family feud.
- Chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief) was a slogan coined by Rahul Gandhi for the 2019 Indian general election campaign of the Congress following the decision by Modi to fashion himself as a guard of the public property of Indians. Rahul had to even apologise in the Supreme Court for attributing to it his fanciful allegation that the Rafale fighter aircraft deal with France was struck to benefit Anil Ambani. This was one of the several instances of bumbling and bungling by the Nehru-Gandhi dynast that never let the Congress campaign for the Lok Sabha election of 2019 take off.