Better late than never

IN Opinion | 20/02/2015
Narendra Modi's belated statement condemning religious violence was either welcomed in fairly pedestrian editorials or ignored by some business papers.
DARIUS NAKHOONWALA was a bit underwhelmed.
You don’t say! 
Darius Nakhoonwala
 
At the risk of sounding trite, let me just say this: when the going gets tough, the tough may get going but the practical back down. And so, after almost nine months of studied silence over attacks on Muslims and Christians, especially the latter, Narendra Modi has spoken. This must and shall stop, he has said to a group of Christians. Obama influence?
 
He should have been as emphatic much earlier. Perhaps the resounding defeat in the Delhi assembly election showed him the light. Perhaps he has had a genuine change of heart. No matter. The important thing is he has finally said it.
 
So the Hindu, which in its peculiar wisdom has made secularism its marketing brand, gave him a pat on the back. Well done, it said in the first para, reserving the second for a sternly frowning admonition which made an important point. “…secularism is not a policy option for a government,” it said, “but one of the original principles that inform the Constitution. ‘Secular’, as a word to describe the Indian Republic, might have been added to the Preamble only in 1976, but the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion under Article 25 is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.”

The Telegraph reminded everyone that this was “the first minority community event that he has attended since his elevation to the prime minister's chair.” It then recounted known facts and opinions, ending with a clucking that “the apparently rhetorical emphases that Mr Modi places in his statement - neither majority nor minority communities would be allowed to inculcate hatred, and that neither overtly nor covertly -- could hinder trust-building.”

The Times of India pointed out that hunting with the hounds and running with the hares just wouldn’t do any more. “Development and communal polarisation cannot go hand in hand... Hitherto, there might have been an understanding among the BJP top brass that allowing fringe elements to project a hardline Hindutva image would reap electoral dividends. Modi could speak development while the likes of Sakshi Maharaj or Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti could bolster the Hindutva plank. However, today’s electorate is smart and sees through such ploys… There is no reason for the BJP to be overly beholden to RSS, especially when the latter is holding up the NDA government’s legislative agenda by providing a reason for opposition parties to unite.” Indeed.
 
The Hindustan Times wrote a very pedestrian edit that left the reader with no new insights. “What prompted Mr Modi to now say what he should have long ago? Is it because of the drubbing that the BJP got in the assembly elections in Delhi? Or is it because Mr Modi has realised that his development agenda is in the danger losing out to the broader divisive social agenda of the right-wing groups?” Hey, come on, that’s not how you write edits.

Considering how much an appropriate political environment, which must include religious tolerance, is important for investment, one would have expected the pinkies to be cock-a-hoop. But amongst the business papers only Business Standard wrote an edit. The Economic Times, Business Line, Mint and Financial Express didn’t think it worth their while to bother.
 
The Business Standard said “However, it is important to note that several in the RSS and its affiliates are interpreting Mr Modi's speech differently. They view it as a rebuke to the missionary activities of churches - in particular the reference to a right to "retain" a religion or belief, and another reference to "undue influence" on personal religious choice.”

Mint said what many people are reluctant to say, namely, “One need not go to the doors of the prime minister’s most prominent critics to conclude that Modi’s long-delayed reassurance to India on the subject of religious freedom is driven more by expediency than commitment.”

For some reason, the Indian Express, which is always quick to the draw, did not write an edit. Did someone just forget?

Last but not least the Pioneer also ignored the Prime Minister. What cheek!
 
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