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Will Narendra Modi, the politician, stifle the voice of dissent or will a statesman rise?

Monday, 25 August 2014 - 4:40pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk

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Are you one of those who become overjoyed over someone’s death? So what if the person was your sworn enemy (as in, he/she didn’t cause you any physical or monetary harm… just expressed his opposition to your views)? Are you one of those who will cheer someone’s death by setting off firecrackers?

Covering the 1992-93 riots and the Mumbai blasts thereafter was a numbing experience. It was for the first time that I saw death all around me, and people going crazy over religion, killing absolute strangers on both sides. A sight that will never leave my memories was a salon being vandalised, workers being pulled out and being thrashed mercilessly (they were probably eventually beaten to death), and the bystanders who didn’t participate in the act, cheering the goons. How could someone cheer a stranger being beaten and probably being killed?

The violence was attributed to mob frenzy, just as the earlier 1984 riots against the Sikhs and the 2002 riots in Gujarat.

But to what do we attribute the act of 'Hindutva' activists who burst firecrackers, celebrating the death of a forthright writer UR Ananthamurthy, whose crime was merely to say he would leave India if Narendra Modi ever became the prime minister? Is this mob frenzy, too? Or is this, on a smaller scale, terrorising any dissent?

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who happens to lead a Congress-NCP government, is booed at an event where he shares the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who leads a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre.

It is repeated in Haryana where another Congress chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, is booed. Again, he is sharing the dais with the prime minister. It happens for a third time, now in Jharkhand, where another non-BJP chief minister Hemant Soren is heckled before PM Narendra Modi. Coincidence?

No one denies there is tremendous anger against the Congress and its leaders across states. It was evident in the manner in which the party was ground to dust in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and we shall probably see a repeat in the assembly elections slated later for this year. No one denies that Modi currently enjoys immense popularity that is unmatched by any other leader from any party, current or past. Why do we need such acts that clearly look stage-managed and leave an impression that there will be no room for any other thought except for the Saffron?

Going back to the debacle of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. First the BJP ministers ridiculed the Congress’s low numbers in the Lok Sabha, which didn't automatically earn them the post of the Leader of Opposition. Then, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, also elected on a BJP ticket, pointed towards the rulebook and said the Congress didn't have the numbers.

Yes, everybody knows the act. But what about the democracy? As the Supreme Court rightly asked, what about the voice of dissent, what about Lokpal selection (a body over which the BJP was extremely vocal when Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare staged massive protests against the UPA in Delhi in 2011)?

In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker is supreme and could have allowed the post. As a senior Maharashtra legislator pointed out, former speaker Somnath Chatterjee would not have even consulted the government on the issue and would have allowed the post. But the Speaker, elected on a BJP ticket, chose to ignore the natural principles and went by the rulebook. Is she right in doing so? Absolutely. But is that the correct thing to do? Should the Speaker not rise above party lines and uphold democracy?

Yes, there will be those typical responses and trolls to this article. What about the Congress? Did the party ever care for democracy? Did they ever do it? Why ask Narendra Modi?

Well, what about bringing about a refreshing change? What about remaking Modi from a politician to a statesman? If we could start a fresh beginning with Pakistan (only to be spurned by the Pakistani army by consistent ceasefire violations), why not allow room for dissenters in India? Why burst crackers on the death of a dissenter? Why heckle chief ministers who will anyway get voted out? Why deny the voice of dissent in the Lok Sabha merely on the grounds of numbers?

Elections are over and it is now the time to rebuild this great nation brick by brick. The most popular prime minister ever will not be harmed if he gets his opponents on board as well. This is exactly what former Maharashtra Chief Minister YB Chavan did in the 60s; he killed the opposition by co-opting them. The Chavan era is known in Maharashtra as the era of political additions to the Congress. A majority of the state was bitterly opposed to the Congress then. But Chavan got his opponents in the Congress and fortified not only the party, but also the state. Modi could do well to take out a leaf from Chavan’s book.

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