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Modi’s letter to Sania Mirza has a message for BJP MPs, MLAs, Khattar. Read between the lines

The silence of PM Modi and the BJP on the women wrestlers' protest in Delhi was deafening. He may have spoken out through his letter to Sania Mirza.

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The government’s public relations managers should be thankful to tennis star Sania Mirza. If it wasn’t for her thoughtful decision to tweet the Prime Minister’s letter to her, Narendra Modi’s real message would have been lost on his colleagues in the BJP. Modi penned a heartfelt letter after Mirza’s retirement, calling her “India’s pride”. She was touched by his “kind and inspiring words”.

When India’s prime minister writes a letter, it’s not just about the individual recipient. What he thinks or says about one individual holds true for millions of others. So, read between the lines. Modi’s letter to Mirza is replete with messages.

BJP silence, Pakistani bahu

For starters, when he thanks her for all that she has done for India and calls her the country’s pride, it’s a big snub to some of his BJP colleagues who targeted her for marrying Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik. In 2014, then-BJP MLA K Laxman attacked the Telangana government for making “Pakistan’s daughter-in-law” brand ambassador of the state. It caused a political storm, forcing the party to distance itself from his remark. But it appears to have given a big boost to his political career. He was appointed as the party president in Telangana in less than two years. The BJP high command then made him national president of the OBC Morcha, nominated him to the Rajya Sabha, and inducted him in the BJP Parliamentary Board, the party’s highest decision-making body. It is an incredible rise for a politician in eight years since calling Sania Mirza “Pakistan’s daughter-in-law”.

As if taking a cue from Laxman’s meteoric rise, T Raja Singh, another BJP MLA, demanded Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao to sack “Pakistani bahu” as Telangana’s brand ambassador after the Pulwama terror attack in 2019. The BJP maintained silence. A year later, he demanded an inquiry into Mirza’s role in the killing of a holy cow in a reserved forest.

BJP remained silent, again. Ultimately, in August 2022, the party suspended him for making derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad. Having suspended spokesperson Nupur Sharma for a similar offence two months before, the party couldn’t have overlooked Singh this time.

PM Modi’s letter to Sania Mirza can be seen as a rebuke to BJP leaders like Laxman and Raja Singh. It also shows, albeit indirectly, that Modi may be in agreement with the Supreme Court Collegium’s view that having a foreign national as spouse doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on national security. It was one of the objections raised by the government against lawyer Saurabh Kirpal’s appointment as a high court judge. Kirpal identifies as gay and has a Swiss partner.

The whole country was stunned when India’s top wrestlers, including Olympic champions, staged a sit-in at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar accusing BJP MP and Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual harassment and exploitation of sportswomen. The silence of PM Modi and the BJP was deafening. He might have spoken out through his letter to Mirza that he cares for sportswomen. In his letter, he referred to India’s ‘sporting prowess’ and how Mirza motivated women who wanted to pursue a career in sports but were hesitant to do so “for some reason or the other.” The BJP might not have taken any action against the accused MP but the aggrieved wrestlers may want to take solace from the PM’s letter empathising with women who hesitate to pursue a career in sports.

The letter has a message for Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, too. Khattar has refused to drop minister Sandeep Singh, accused of sexually harassing a woman coach, from his cabinet. While the police investigation is supposedly on, Khattar has already called the allegation “absurd” and said “he is not guilty yet.”

Central investigation agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) keep opposing bail pleas in courts, arguing that the accused may tamper with evidence. Now, think of a minister being investigated by the police when the CM himself has declared the allegation absurd. Khattar may want to read the PM’s letter to see how deeply he understands why women are hesitant to choose sports as a career.

Also read: Why Aatish Taseer predicts ‘inevitability’ to confrontation between Bollywood & Modi

Message for critics

Modi tells Mirza in his letter: “I also hope you are able to spend more quality time with Izhaan.” Izhaan Mirza Malik is the four-year-old son of Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik. This has a message for the usual suspects of the ultra-nationalist social media outrage who had gone mad after author-columnist Tavleen Singh wrote about the revocation of her son, British-born writer Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had then said that Aatish had concealed his late father Salman Taseer’s Pakistani origin. The MHA also refuted allegations that the revocation was because of a critical article that Aatish wrote for Time magazine. He and his mother rebutted official claims but the mention of the Pakistani Muslim father triggered the same social media assault by pro-BJP ‘nationalists’ yet again who then went after Tavleen Singh.

At this point, you may ask: “Hello, aren’t you reading too much between the lines?” You may accuse me of seeing things where there are none. My response would be that when India’s Prime Minister pens a letter, which becomes public, it’s only natural that Indians will read and re-read it. Everyone will have their own takeaways. I have my own even though I am willing to be persuaded that a letter written to the sporting icon of an election-bound state—and of the nation, of course—may have a different message altogether.

I am, however, intrigued by the fact that Modi’s social media handlers have chosen not to tweet the letter from his or the PMO’s handle even after Mirza made it public. The BJP also seems to have missed it. Usually the party’s leaders, in the government or outside, are super quick to tweet and re-tweet anything positive about Modi. But when Sania Mirza tweeted to thank the PM for his support, there was no reaction from them. But, of course, BJP leaders understand their politics better than you and I.

D.K. Singh is the political editor at ThePrint.Views are personal

(Edited by Ratan Priya)

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