Prime Minister Narendra Modi devoted three tweets Friday morning – two of them in Sinhala – welcoming Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to India. But even as Parliament was adjourned over the furore on Bhopal MP Pragya Thakur’s mealy-mouthed apology for her remark on M.K. Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse 48 hours ago, PM Modi has maintained a stubborn silence.
So, why has Modi refused to condemn Pragya Thakur?
PM Modi did condemn Pragya Thakur once – in May. When she campaigned for herself during the 2019 Lok Sabha election after being picked as the BJP’s Bhopal candidate, the Malegaon terror blasts accused had used the same description for Godse.
Like Friday morning in Parliament, she had apologised for her remark then as well. But it was overshadowed by PM Modi’s reaction, who had later told News 24, “I will never be able to forgive Pragya Thakur for insulting Mahatma Gandhi.”
Six months later, anger against the serial offender, now an MP, has come from lower ranks in the BJP, not from Modi and Shah.
It was left to BJP working president J.P. Nadda to censure Pragya Thakur. She was removed from the parliamentary committee on defence. On Friday morning, she twice apologised in Parliament – first time with several caveats in her apology and the second time, unconditionally.
But Modi and Shah have made sure they remain above the sound and fury beneath.
Modi and the RSS link
The PM’s refusal to engage with the Nathuram Godse controversy means two things.
First, he doesn’t want to clash with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on the subject matter. The RSS has often said that Godse wasn’t a member when Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, but the organisation cannot deny that Godse was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, which is part of the same Right-wing pantheon.
Modi, it seems, doesn’t want to disagree too much with the RSS, of which he was a pracharak for decades and which helped him come to power.
Second, Modi believes that it doesn’t behove him as the PM to get involved in such a loaded controversy. His BJP has just lost Maharashtra, a huge prize – Modi is probably still wondering how he let it slip from his hands. There are several important assembly elections around the corner. Voting in Jharkhand begins Saturday while Delhi assembly election is scheduled for February. These are crucial states for the BJP and Modi knows he will have to do everything to win them so as to keep the perception alive that he and the BJP are still in control of India.
But beginning with the map of India, something has changed with Maharashtra. There has been a shift among the voters, even if the main opposition party, the Congress, has been slow to capitalise on the changing mood.
Modi, much smarter than the rest of the political class put together, knows that it’s the economy that will weigh him down, rather than the opposition’s antics. Growth rates are down and plunging every quarter.
So, Modi has, according to Bloomberg, “cut corporate taxes, set up a special real-estate fund, merged banks and announced the biggest privatization drive in more than a decade.” Whether or not this is enough is another challenge.
Pragya interrupts Modi’s Lanka focus
Meanwhile, Modi had prepared to pull out the red carpet for Sri Lanka’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa as soon as he was elected president a fortnight ago. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was dispatched to Colombo with the message that, notwithstanding earlier differences with the Rajapaksa brothers (Gotabaya’s elder brother Mahinda is the new prime minister), India was ready to do business with the island nation that sits like a pearl in the Indian Ocean.
At the ceremonial parade welcoming Rajapaksa in New Delhi, Modi was conspicuous by his presence. Talks followed, at which both leaders agreed to improve counter-terrorism measures in the Indian Ocean. Rajapaksa welcomed Indian intelligence and financial assistance to Sri Lanka.
And then Pragya Thakur went ahead and rained on Modi’s parade. Her apology in Parliament has not only riled up the opposition, it has upset her own party too.
It is more than likely that PM Modi is furious with Pragya Thakur’s repeated reference to the Mahatma’s assassin. After all, Modi has spent a lot of time celebrating the Mahatma. His government is commemorating Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary with great aplomb. He made a special mention of Gandhi’s greatness at the UN General Assembly in September. His Swachh Bharat campaign is directly inspired by Gandhi’s cleanliness drive.
Question is, why doesn’t he say so publicly?