In poll bound Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi courted controversy by comparing the southern state with Somalia. During an election rally in Thiruvananthapuram, Modi claimed that the infant mortality rate among Scheduled Tribes of Kerala was worse than people living in Somalia. Media reports that followed dug deep into facts and found that the infant mortality rate in Somalia was 90 per 1,000 births.
The figure was much higher than the recorded numbers in Kerala, the most literate Indian state. As a whole, Kerala’s infant mortality rate stands at 12 per 1,000 births. But the number increases to as much as 60 when it comes to Scheduled Tribes in particular. The condition is thus better than Somalia but nevertheless quite alarming.
However, Modi’s Somalia jibe has once again resulted in factual inaccuracy. In this piece, we revisit Modi’s inappropriate analogies that attracted controversy and landed him on the wrong side of facts.
People were ashamed of being born Indians
While celebrating his first year in office at Shanghai, Modi stated that people were earlier ashamed of being born Indians. Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu quoted Modi as having said the following, “Earlier, you felt ashamed of being born Indian.. Now you feel proud to represent the country. Indians abroad had all hoped for a change in government last year.”
A political leader has every right to boast about his accomplishments. But Modi took it a bit too far. There may have been huge despondency with the political establishment but that doesn’t mean that Indians were ashamed of their nationality. To say that things turned around only after the BJP was voted to power in 2014 was nothing but an act of self-aggrandisement.
Belittling Indian secularism abroad
Modi’s comments in Shanghai weren’t the first time that he committed a faux pass on foreign soil. Earlier in Japan, he had taken a potshot at secularists back home.
“For gifting (Japanese Emperor Akihito) I brought a Gita. I do not know what will happen in India after this. There maybe a TV debate on this. Our secular friends will create toofan (storm) that what does Modi think of himself? He has taken a Gita with him that means he has made this one also communal,” Modi said.
He followed it up with similar comments in Germany. “There was a time when German radio used to have a bulletin in Sanskrit… but not in India where there is such a storm over secularism that even Sanskrit has been roped into controversy,” he said.
It is noteworthy to mention that there was no major political opposition to Modi’s decision of gifting a Gita to Japanese Emperor Akihito. Yet Modi chose to prophesize otherwise. When a Prime Minister travels abroad, he is the ambassador of the entire country. One may have his/her personal politics to further but ridiculing the notion of secularism in front of a foreign audience only reflected Modi’s inherent contempt for the concept of a non-religious state which the RSS abhors.
Questioning Bihari DNA
Last year’s Bihar elections also witnessed a number of controversies which included Modi’s questioning of Bihari DNA. Accusing Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of practising “political untouchability”, Modi said, “There seems to be some problem in his DNA because the DNA of democracy is not like that. In democracy, you give respect even to your political rivals.”
Being an astute politician, Nitish was quick to capitalize on Modi’s slip. He turned the issue into one concerning Bihari pride and asked Modi to apologize. The electoral results too rested in favour of Nitish. Modi can only hope that “Somalia” doesn’t cost BJP the Kerala elections much in the same way as “DNA” taunt became a rallying point during Bihar elections.
Meaningless misogynist remarks
Addressing a gathering at Bangladesh’s University of Dhaka, Modi stunned many by saying, “I am happy that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, despite being a woman, is openly saying that she has zero tolerance for terrorism. I would like to congratulate Sheikh Hasina for her courage to deal with terrorism with zero tolerance.”
As per Modi’s own admission, it was surprising for him to observe that a female politician was tough on terror. That’s probably because Modi thinks that women are generally faint hearted and excepted to be soft on terror. It would be interesting to figure out as to which RSS shakha imbibed such gender stereotypes inside Modi’s mind.
Much before he became Prime Minister, the Wall Street Journal interviewed Modi in the capacity of Gujarat’s Chief Minister and questioned him regarding malnutrition among Gujarati children below the age of five years.
Modi responded by saying, “The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious. That is a challenge.. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.”
The comments were reflective of various biases. Firstly, it was premised on the sweeping generalization that the entire middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious. It was claimed so without referring to any quantitative data thus earmarking the whole middle class as an easy target for governance failure.
Secondly, has any girl child below the age of five years ever told her parents that she won’t have milk because she’ll get fat? The world doesn’t work this way. Modi could have made this imaginary remark concerning boys also but he restricted himself to girls thereby indicating his gender conditioning. What an easy way to shrug off responsibility by shooting from the shoulders of the middle class and female kids.
The relationship between communal rhetoric and Modi is the same as the one shared between tea and sugar. Both work together and complement each other. Adding sugar to tea improves its taste whereas occasional communal remarks help Modi tilt his political graph towards the north.
When Reuters asked Modi about the anti-Muslim carnage in 2002, he said, “Someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy (kutte ka bacha) comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is. If I am a Chief Minister or not, I am a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.”
Is that the way to express remorse at the death of civilians killed during communal rioting? Modi would have never used the words “kutte ka bacha” while paying homage to the karsevaks who died when the Sabarmati Express burnt. He could have spoken with such insensitivity only in relation to Muslim riot victims whom he had earlier accused of running “child producing factories” inside refugee camps.
Words once spoken cannot be taken back. It remains to be seen whether Modi’s Somalia remark is responded to by Keralites only through the hashtag #PoMoneModi (Go home Modi) on Twitter or is kept in mind while exercising their franchise on May 16.