Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the BJP pack when it comes to saying factually incorrect things, election or no election. It looks like that he knows he can get away by making false remarks.
Campaigning in Karnataka, Modi said that Nehru never met Bhagat Singh when he was jailed. Online and print media countered Modi with historical evidence of Nehru meeting Singh in jail. Some of them produced newspaper archives for the purpose. But the Prime Minister of India does not seem to be embarrassed. I guess that is because he lives in an echo chamber listening to nothing but his own voice. I can’t see any other reason why a human would feel so cool after being constantly contradicted with facts.
However, a new chief minister in the far east of the country seems determined to break Modi’s record on making false statements and inviting public ridicule. As if taking a cue from Modi, Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb has been saying things that have attracted wide public derision. He started off by saying that the internet and satellite communication existed when the Pandavas and Kauravas fought the Kurukshetra War.
“How else do you think Sanjay gave a blow-by-blow account of the war to Dhritarashtra,” Deb asked his puzzled audience a few weeks back. The remark attracted national attention but Deb was unmoved. He said those who did not believe his claim were ones who wanted to show the nation in poor light but what he said was the ‘truth’.
Even before the buzz on his ‘livestreaming of Mahabharat’ joke could die down, Deb cracked another one. This one revealed the mind-set of those who swear by the RSS’ shakha model of education. Talking of beauty pageants, he said Aiswhwarya Rai was the real beauty and questioned Diana Hayden being placed in the same league. Hayden hit back a day later, accusing Deb of racism, forcing him to tender an apology.
Anyone with a little common sense would have turned cautious before making public remarks if one attracted so much ridicule in such a short while. But Deb only seemed to enjoy all the publicity he was attracting for the wrong reasons.
His next joke was at an official event in Agartala. He advised mechanical engineers not to opt for civil services because only ‘civil engineers were fit for civil service’. By now, almost anyone with a primary education who heard Deb’s remarks may have started laughing at BJP President Amit Shah’s handpicked Chief Minister, but not Shah. He said that Deb was young and he would learn.
What Deb said later demonstrated that he may be politically young, but too old to unlearn things that he picked up from the RSS Shakhas and Guru Modi: Deb advised employment seekers in his state not to ‘run after government jobs’ but to ‘open paan shops’ or breed cows.
While the latter occupation is a luxury for many poor people, the advice from a CM to open shops that sell tobacco products was not just insensitive but objectionable as the Government itself issues warnings on the health risks involved to those who consume tobacco products. But if the guru can classify those selling snacks as those who should be counted as employed, why should not the disciple go a step further?
Even weeks after Deb became a regular feature in the media, his party has not bothered about advising him to think before he speaks. That seems evident from his latest remark: ‘Rabindranath Tagore returned his Nobel Prize for literature in protest against the British’.
Hopefully, he would get to read about his remark with the clarification that Tagore had no reason to return an honour conferred by the Swedish Academy for the atrocities committed by the British. Tagore, of course, returned the knighthood the British Empire had conferred on him in 1915 immediately after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919.
What is it with BJP leaders that they make false and ridiculous statements related to history? To know the truth, one needs to read history books that have not been tampered by saffron apologists. In any case, Modi and Deb are not bothered about the aftereffects of their ridiculous statements. They have put their faith in the RSS teachings at the Shakhas by those who are ill-informed and those who want to misinform the gullible. And they have no reason to rethink as they are able to garner votes by propagating all the misinformation they have acquired.
Making false statements involving the armed forces just to win an assembly election is not only reprehensible but setting a dangerous trend. It was only last week that Modi dragged in Generals Cariappa and Thimayya into the Karnataka assembly polls.
While the majority of Asia, Africa and South America have seen military dictatorship at some point of time or the other, India has remained exception to the rule only because its political leadership at the time of Independence took care to keep the armed forces away from dabbling in politics.
The BJP and its apologists don’t seem to have realised this. They started the dangerous game of dragging the Army into politics by portraying Indian soldiers killed in border firing, or while combating terrorists, as victims of a flawed civilian policy. BJP-RSS agents in the TV studios used to almost goad the armed forces to revolt against the UPA Government, just like a few ill-advised leaders did during the run-up to the declaration of Emergency.
This was followed by inducting General V K Singh — who created such a controversy regarding his date of birth during his stint as Army chief — immediately into the BJP on his retirement and giving him a ticket to contest the 2014 polls. His ‘Deb moments’ may have ended after several foolish remarks attracted public condemnation, but the current Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, seems to have taken over from where Singh has left off.
In a recent interview to a newspaper, he has unnecessarily talked about the political issues in Jammu and Kashmir, which the Army has maintained over the years was for the civilian Government to address.
General Rawat’s job is to keep his men motivated in protecting the country, which includes maintaining peace in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir. Why should he tell the civilian population in J&K “azadi is not attainable since India is too large to fight?” If a General does not know the limits of his powers, the Government would usually draw the line for him. However, Rawat seems to have the Modi Government’s permission to say things a soldier was forbidden to in the past.
(Published on 14th May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 20)