Manipur: See no evil, hear no evil... Or, ignorance is bliss
It really helps the prime minister, home minister and chief minister to profess ignorance on Manipur. Remember the 2002 Gujarat CM's ignorance of Ahmedabad?
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 triggered outrage which is what returned Manipur to the public debate and 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 that it had ignored till now.
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.
Also Read: Manipur: 65+ days of a stony silence...
When the incident, and others like it, were actually happening, he was in Bangalore holding road shows. He put off one road show, 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.
There 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 pandemic. Normally visible every day at some event whether physically or virtually, he disappeared for 20 days after cancelling his 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 had defeated the pandemic under 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 Galwan.
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 that something wrong has happened under my watch.
The other benefit of this is that because their devotion continues, I can also arrogate 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 22 July: "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 completely avoid talking about 'fastest-growing' at this point and surface when it is true 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 Indian government 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.
Views are personal.