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  • For India's sake, PM Modi must find his voice

    Posted On May 16, 2021

    By Karan Thapar

    Good governments communicate and they do it for one simple reason. Their intention is to carry the people with them. So they don’t simply inform, they also consciously promote the impression we are one. And they seek to do this by delivering a message that can bind the country together. When done effectively it also wins support for them, even though the going may be rough and their achievements few and far between.


    There’s also a second truth. Great leaders can find the words that express the resolve or aspirations of their people. Think of Churchill in World War II: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Or Roosevelt at his first inauguration during the depths of the Depression: “This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”


    I’m afraid on both counts our government and our Prime Minister have disappointed us. This is why many feel abandoned and helpless, full of despair and unable to see the flicker of light that can keep hope alive.


    Let me come to specifics so you can better understand. First, the press conferences our government holds may be long but they’re conducted thoughtlessly. We’re drowned in a deluge of detailed information which is impossible for most people to comprehend. No doubt it’s delivered by well-meaning bureaucrats but they lack the capacity to hold attention and they don’t. But, worst of all, there’s a definite reluctance to reveal the grim truth. You sense it’s being withheld. Consequently your doubts are confirmed whilst your fears remain unresolved. The private news channels rarely show them in full. Last week on two occasions even Rajya Sabha TV cut out early.


    The most inexplicable part is the press conferences are almost entirely in hindi. It’s as if no one cares whether South India or the North East are listening. Their unfamiliarity with or, even, aversion to hindi is well-known. Is this the time to force it upon them?


    I watch these press conferences regularly. I learn from them. However, I’m a journalist wanting to find out. But I’ve never met anyone outside my profession who’s tuned in. Many are not even aware they happen. So are they achieving their purpose? I doubt it.


    However, what truly perplexes me is our Prime Minister’s silence. Without doubt he’s the best communicator we have. He’s capable of heights of oratory and he has a gift for capturing the mood of the country. Today, when we are shaken, depressed and some are even losing hope, we need him to give us strength and courage, vision and determination. But he has nothing to say. Indeed, he’s not just silent, he’s almost invisible.


    But let me go further. At a moment when we need a leader we can identify with, his appearance suggests he’s become a different person. He has a right to grow a beard but is he aware to many it suggests retreat and withdrawal? When we need a warrior we see instead a himalayan sage.


    Now, I know I’m only reflecting my personal views but what else can an individual express? I can’t pretend to speak for others and yet I don’t believe I’m a lone voice either. We know things have gone horribly wrong. We know putting them right won’t be easy. In fact, it will be tortuous. But we’ll only believe we can do it when our government speaks honestly to us. That’s why communication is so important. Alongside that we need the Prime Minister to re-kindle hope and resolve. That’s why he must find his voice again.

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