On criticism, important advice from PM Modi
In an interview to Network18 in September 2016, by when he had been PM for over two years, Narendra Modi spoke about the need for analysis and criticism of governments and their work.
I wonder how many people remember what the prime minister (PM) said about the importance of criticising his government. Not just the content of his statement, but also the words he carefully used. Indeed, if a clip of that passage is played, you’ll also notice the force of his delivery. The three together make clear he wants us to believe he meant what he said.
In an interview to Network18 in September 2016, by when he had been PM for over two years, Narendra Modi said: “Mera yeh spasht mat hai ki sarkaron ki, sarkar ke kaam-kaaj ka, kathor se kathor analysis hona chahiye, criticism hona chahiye. Warna loktantra chal hi nahi sakta hai.” (It is my firm belief there should be the toughest possible analysis and criticism of governments and their work. Otherwise democracy cannot function).
First, notice the choice of words, “kathor se kathor” analysis and criticism. Not gentle and subtle. Not euphemistic. But blunt, outspoken, and forceful. Second, it’s not just the government’s work that should be analysed and criticised, but the government itself. Modi refers to them as separate entities. It’s a deliberate distinction.
Modi went further. In equally powerful terms, he defined the outcome if the media fails to criticise the government. “Sarkaron mein jo sudharna chahiye, jo ek dar paida hona chahiye, wah dar bhi nikal jata hai. Aur yeh dar agar sarkaron mein se nikal jayega tho desh ka nuksan bahut hoga. Isliye main tho chahta hoon ki media bahut hi critical ho.” (Whatever improvement needs to be brought about in the government and the fear that should be there in the government, that fear will disappear. If that fear disappears from the government, the country will be badly damaged. This is why I want the media to be very critical).
So, the PM wants the government to be kept fearful. He hasn’t used the word “dar” accidentally. He’s used it three times, in fact. And notice what will happen if the government stops being fearful — serious damage to the country.
I can’t recall other democratic leaders expressing the need for criticism in quite this way. Many may welcome strong criticism, but none said the government must be kept fearful. And Modi isn’t talking about governments in the plural but, specifically, his own.
Now, why have I repeated this? For the simple reason that some people have either forgotten or deliberately ignored it. I could cite multiple examples but I’ll restrict myself to two.
When law minister Kiren Rijiju accused some retired judges of being part of “an anti-India gang” because they were at a seminar, where professor Mohan Gopal presented an analysis of judges appointed during the Modi government, claiming 15% were theocratic and not constitutionalist, doesn’t he realise that’s precisely the sort of analysis Modi’s statement covers? Yet, Rijiju called this anti-Indian. He said those who “worked against the country would pay a price”.
My second example is the vice-president. He’s not a member of the Modi government. His position elevates him. But when talking about “the intelligentsia and people from (the) media”, he referred to “anti-India forces orchestrating pernicious narratives to downsize our growth trajectory and taint our functional democracy and constitutional institutions” and seemed unaware that Modi’s interview covers this as well.
“Downsize(ing) our growth trajectory” is questioning the veracity of our Gross Domestic Product forecasts. “Taint(ing) our functional democracy and constitutional institutions” is questioning the functioning of Parliament, the Election Commission and our security agencies. Yet, Modi has said this is not just welcome, but necessary.
I would say the PM’s sagacious words should be taken to heart by ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party spokesmen, two categories who have to respond to criticism of the government. Let me add a further point. Take criticism on the chin, with a smile and a display of good grace, and it’ll blow over pretty quickly. Quarrel with the critic and, worse, accuse him of being anti-national, and the response will become of greater concern than the criticism. In short, be politic, not political.
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal