A letter to PM Modi and response to it

July 28, 2019

My comments are within square brackets and in bold.

Yesterday I read a letter written by some celebrities to PM Modi expressing concern over lynching etc. and statement in response to it by another set of celebrities. I read both documents carefully, wrote comments in the text in red font for my own understanding, saved and forgot. Then before going to bed by chance hit upon some TV debates on the issue, including one on the channel run by that mindlessly shouting pretender Goswami. I was aghast! The kind of anger (pretended?) unleased against the people who expressed concern over lynching etc. There was nothing of a debate or listening to the other’s point of view in that. All one could hear was just shouting names and calling these people anti-nationals.

Snippets from both documents were mentioned out of context and distorted. That gave men the idea that may be sharing both documents with people who might look for them with my own comments in the text is not such a bad idea. So here they are.

Letter to MP Modi

“23 July 2019


Shri Narendra Damodar Modi

Honourable Prime Minister of India

Dear Prime Minister,

We, as peace loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned about a number of tragic events that have been happening in recent times in our beloved country. [Only recent times?]

Our Constitution describes India as a secular socialist democratic republic where citizens of all religions, ethnicities, gender and castes are equal. Hence, to ensure that every citizen enjoys the rights given to her/him by the constitution, our submission is:

The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. [It is a very serious and genuine concern, the governments, States mainly, are duty bound to stop this. Are Dalits considered minority separate from Hindus? Or are they an underprivileged section of Hindus?] We were shocked to learn from the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) reports that there have been no less than 840 instances of atrocities against Dalits in the year 2016, and a definite decline in the percentage of convictions. [Why are these atrocities clubbed with “lynching”? Were they lynching? Or just an oversight that might give a misleading interpretation?]

Further, 254 religious identity-based hate crimes were reported between January 1, 2009 and October 29, 2018, where at least 91 persons were killed and 579 were injured (FactChecker.indatabase (October 30, 2018). The Citizen’s Religious Hate-Crime Watch recorded that Muslims, (14% of India’s population) were the victims in 62% of cases, and Christians (2% of the population), in 14% of cases. [in the 62% Muslim cases who were the perpetrators? In 14% Christian cases who were the perpetrators? Who were the remaining 26% victims of Religious-Hate crime and who were the perpetrators in these cases?] About 90% of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your government assumed power nationally. [If the data are correct it is a very serious situation and the BJP government should be held responsible. But the questions above are very important to makeup one’s mind.]

You have criticized such lynchings in Parliament Mr. Prime Minister, but that is not enough! What action has actually been taken against the perpetrators? [Blaming the central government alone for this is unfair. Where the state government is BJP it still makes sense, but in states rules by non-BJP governments PM alone cannot do much in this.] We strongly feel that such offences should be declared non- bailable, and that exemplary punishment should be meted out swiftly and surely. If life imprisonment without parole can be the sentence in cases of murder, why not for lynchings, which are even more heinous? [YES] No citizen should have to live in fear in his/her own country! [Yes. But who is scared? It needs much more analysis. There seems to be an exaggeration here.]

Regrettably “Jai Shri Ram” has become a provocative ‘war-cry’ [war cry may be a bit overboard, provocative slogan/chanting, yes.] today that leads to law and order problems, and many lynchings take place in its name. It is shocking that so much violence should be perpetrated in the name of religion! [These lines clearly indicate that religious violence is perpetrated only by “Jai Shri Ram” chanters, that is, only by Hindus. Even in todays India where Muslims are portrayed as ‘scared’ this is not true. Even if one takes only the physical violence there are many incidents where Muslims have indulged in spontaneous violence on imagined issues. Most recent examples are from Chandani Chauk Delhi and Shastri Nagar, Jaipur.] These are not the Middle Ages! [No, not Middle Ages, therefore, we all should be united against Middle Ages mindset and practices in all religious communities, for example child marriage, triple talaq, unequal status of women, not tolerating critique of religious dogmas and all.] The name of Ram is sacred to many in the majority community of India. As the highest Executive of this country, you must put a stop to the name of Ram being defiled in this manner. [The government can and must stop violence; but why should the name of a religious mythological figure be a concern of any executive of the government? And what if the believers in Ram themselves are defiling that name (which seems to be the case)?]

There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded ‘anti-national’ or ‘Urban Naxal’ and incarcerated because of dissent against the government. [Dissent in democracy is a right. But it is not as value to perpetrate, it is a weapon for fight injustice, and should be protected as such. The dissent presently in India is expressed all around, including in this letter. The cases where there seems to be misuse of the laws to stifle dissent should be carefully considered. Not every one who might have been arrested is necessarily ONLY for dissent, there might be something more into it than just dissent. Who calls people anti-national? If it is the members of public then what can the sate do? Does state brand people antinationals? Why active abettors and facilitators of Naxalite violence should not be called ‘Urban Naxals’ if living in cities?]  Article 19 of the Constitution of India protects freedom of speech and expression of which dissent is an integral part. Criticising the ruling party does not imply criticizing the nation. [True, and therefore, critiquing the government and BJP is a right of every Indian citizen. But in the obsession of criticizing the ruling party if people forget the difference between the party and the nation and start abusing everything Indian then there is a problem. For example, this letter itself is trying to obliterate the difference between individuals who call some people anti-national and the government and trying to give impression that branding as anti-national is done by the government. The JNU incident and lectures after that are very good examples of blaming the nation and everything Indian. One should listen to those loectures very carefully.] No ruling party is synonymous with the country where it is in power. It is only one of the political parties of that country. Hence anti-government stands cannot be equated with anti-national sentiments. An open environment where dissent is not crushed, only makes for a stronger nation. [Absolutely true. But those who use their right to free speech selectively in favour of one section and against another can not be called champions of free speech. They harm the democracy. Let’s at least now listen to Hamid Dalwai: that Indian liberals should unite and criticise all obscurantism and religious bigotry equally, irrespective of it being Hindu or Muslim. Selective criticism, he cautions, will result in collapse of secularism and democracy. Which is happening right in front of our eyes.]

We hope our suggestions will be taken in the spirit that they are meant – as Indians genuinely concerned with, and anxious about – the fate of our nation.

With best regards,

Yours sincerely”

Signed 49 or so celebrities.

Statement in response to the letter

“Against Selective Outrage & False Narratives

An open letter which has been published on July 23 2019, and addressed to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has astonished us. Forty-nine self-styled “guardians” and “conscience keepers” of the nation and of democratic values have once again expressed selective concern and demonstrated a clear political bias and motive. [Every Indian has a right to be a self-styled guardian and conscience keeper of the nation. It can not be questioned. Political bias in the Open Letter to PM is actually less clear than in this one. That letter expresses everything as concern for the nation and democratic values, and it is really very difficult to say which particular opposition party that letters favours; however, this one clearly favours BJP. The writers of the first letter certainly are better in clear thinking and balanced expression in public debate compared to the writers of this one.]

To us, the undersigned, this document of selective outrage comes across as an attempt to foist a FALSE NARRATIVE with the intention of denigrating the democratic ethos and norms of our collective functioning as a nation and people. [The First letter certainly is in the tradition of a particular narrative in todays India, that narrative is biased and attacks one community and the government while favouring the other. But this issue needs much more careful consideration, as this discourse has become the only way Indian intellectuals can think. This is not deliberate on their part, this is how they think under a host of unexamined assumptions.] It is aimed at tarnishing India’s international standing [The first letter does have issues which may be biased, but is not designed to tarnish India’s image. This is an exercise of their democratic right to criticise the government; and every Indian citizen has the right to speak against Prime Minister Modi’s functioning if s/he genuinely disagrees.] and to negatively portray Prime Minister Modi’s untiring efforts to effectuate governance on the foundations of positive nationalism and humanism which is the core of INDIANNESS.

The signatories to the “open letter” have, in the past, kept silent when tribals and the marginalised have become victims of Naxal terror, they have kept silent when separatists have issued dictates to burn schools in Kashmir, they have kept silent when the demand for dismembering India, for making pieces of her -Tukde Tukde – were made, they kept silent when slogans chanted by terrorists and terror groups were echoed in some leading university campuses in the country. [This kind of selective silence is the hallmark of Indian liberal intellectual, many of them may have been guilty of this. Indian liberals can not speak against minority even when they are wrong, particularly they can not speak against Muslim community at all.]

For the signatories, it seems the freedom, unity and integrity of India can be bartered away in the name of freedom of speech and expression. [Not true from reading the first letter. This is the kind of shoddy thinking which the writers of the first letter call branding dissenters as anti-national. Writers of this letter are partially proving their point. There are prominently visible people in the Indian public which brand every dissent as anti-national. However, the writers of the first letter make the mistake (or deliberately create confusion) of blaming the government for this.]   But for us, the unity and integrity of India, her freedom is sacrosanct and anyone who questions these, who works to dilute or destroy these who conspires to disturb these need to be resisted. [These things are sacrosanct for most Indians, including the writers of the first letter.] Some of the signatories to the “open letter” have a record of acting as mouthpieces and ideologues for insurgents, separatists and terrorists in the past. Their concern, therefore, smacks of dishonesty and opportunism. [This might be true of some of them, but then they should be named and evidence should be shared.]

They have argued that “anti-government stands cannot be equated with anti-national sentiments”, in fact under the Modi regime we see maximum liberty to differ, to criticise and to abuse the government and the dispensation in power – the spirit of dissent has never been stronger. [“maximum liberty” and “dissent has never been stronger” may be exaggeration. But liberty of expression of the critique of the government and particularly by the liberal intellectuals is under no threat in India today. However, the attack liberals launch on those who disagree with them smacks of their own extreme intolerance.] The Constitution of India certainly gives the right to dissent but not the right to try and break India apart. To disguise the propensity for subversion by the name of dissent is a dangerous trait. [Yes, it would be a dangerous trait, but the first letter does not do that.]

Prime Minister Modi has very succinctly put forward the mantra of his governance and that is SABKA SATH, SABKA VIKAS and to that he has now included SABKA VISHVAS. [Yes, Modi has given these slogans, but he has not been able to include Muslims so far, nor has delivered on VIKAS.] Lynching is a social malady which has to be dealt up front, Prime Minister has spoken out against it repeatedly and respective state governments are empowered to take action. We would urge everyone to give up being selective and condemn lynching, discrimination and desecration of religious places with equal vehemence when they occur. [Yes, this impartiality is extremely important at this juncture. Both sides represented by these two sets of letter writers have been guilty of partiality and bias in this regard.] Instead of indulging in grand-standing, personalities with a social and public profile ought to generate greater awareness on the need to tackle and eliminate the mind-set that leads to lynching. [The slow movement of law and inefficiency of police is the main culprit, improvement in them will be much more effective and that is the responsibility of the governments, centre and states, both. The sangh parivar organisations can not be completely absolved of spreading hatred, but then neither can many Muslims and Islamic terror groups can be absolved of the same crime.]

Today the marginalised and the oppressed have been empowered like never before, not through the smoke-screen of hollow slogans and political claptrap but through creative schemes. [What is the evidence for this claim?] The “open letter” comes across to us as an attempt to mock the mandate of the marginalised, to create a false sense of fear and siege and to try and derail India’s march towards collective empowerment of all sections of society. [There might be some truth that the letter is one sided and therefore may help in creating a false sense of fear and siege”. It is clearly an attempt to defame the nation. [It is not. One can say that it blames the government and also implicates the Hindu community; but not the nation.] WE DO CONDEMN the conspiracy. [That is the democratic right of the writers of this letter.]

These signatories have strangely kept silent:

1) When those who chant Jai Shree Ram were imprisoned, were called criminals and were being killed and maimed [It is very likely looking at the habits of Indian intellectuals; but references are needed. When? Give references.]

2) When complaints of being forced to chant Jai Shree Ram were being repeatedly exposed as being false and concocted. [That is true, there have been some incidents of this nature. But still references are needed.]

3) When members of a certain community – in this case Hindus of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal, were being prevented from exercising their franchise during the last Lok Sabha elections and were being terrorised by one Shah Jehan Sheikh who was passed off as a popular “social worker” [References from the press would have helped. Though it sounds likely.]

4) When an orgy of unprecedented violence was unleashed during the Panchayat. [When? What panchayat? References needed.]

5) When violence was unleashed in the state during the Lok Sabha elections this year. [When? Which state? References needed.]

6) When Jagannath Tudu was bludgeoned to death in Purulia just because he followed a different political ideology from that of the ruling dispensation in West Bengal. [Sounds likely but References from press needed.]

7) When students were fired upon in Daribhit High School, Islampur, just because they wanted teachers for Bengali, Geography and Computer Application instead of being forced to learn Urdu. [References?]

8) When temples were vandalised in Kaliachak, Deganga, Baduria, Raniganj and even as late as in July 2019 in Chandni Chowk in Delhi. [Yes.]

9) When there was a concerted conspiracy by a certain section, taking advantage of the Sabrimala Temple entry movement, to disguise themselves and try and enter the temple and thus hurt the sentiments of millions of devotees. [References?]

10) They are silent when farmers are killed by cattle smugglers and live in terror due to them [Yes, there are incidents of this nature, but still References?] or when Jawans along some sectors of our borders are attacked and murderously assaulted by these smuggling cartels. [This is well known, and true. Indian liberals don’t react much to deaths of jawans, but do on deaths of militants. Even when they react on killing of jawans they blame the government policies, and argue as if the government has killed those jawans, and not the Islamic militants.]

11) When Hindus in Kairana (UP) had to migrate leaving their home and hearth behind. [References?]

12) They were silent when Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of the Valley and have never till date spoken of their plight. [This is well known and true. Indian intellectuals were not moved at all by plight of Kashmiri Pandits. They were and are much more concerned with the plight of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi infiltrators. They are also quite unmoved by the Hindu refugees coming from Pakistan.]

This very group did not display the courage to stand beside women who were opposed to and are struggling against the regressive Triple Talaq tradition and did not speak out for the need of equality and empowerment in this case. [True.]

The selective outrage and amnesia of this particular group makes us believe that they are working to a certain agenda and are only playing into the hands of those forces that are out Balkanise India and to destabilise her. [to Balkanise is a bit too much, but yes, for their political agenda tarnished the image of India, most probably they do not want it, but their selective highlighting of incidents do create this impression. And blaming Hindus for everything is often comes across.]

This group has also repeatedly expressed disdain for the faith of the majority in India. [Yes. However, perhaps that is simply because they feel free to criticise Hinduism as majority of them are Hindus, and keep their mouths shut when there is an issue concerning Islam.] They have repeatedly heaped derision on those who believe in Lord Ram and who derive strength and solace by chanting his sacred name. This letter is a disguised attempt to pour disdain on the subalterns for whom faith and worship are defining dimensions. [Criticising any ideology, including religious ones, is part of freedom of speech. It does not matter who believes in that religion, whether the elites or subalterns, Hindus, Muslims, or anyone else. Problem in India is not that Hinduism is criticised, the problem is that everything in Islam is defended. No criticism there is either offered or tolerated.]

We are confident that India shall continue her march of all round development, of progress and of social equity [tathastu!] and not pay heed to those who try to destabilise her polity and society through trying to generate a false sense of siege and victimhood. [Have to pay heed to them if progress is to be made. If they raise genuine problems it has to be taken on board; if motivated and wrong, it has to be refuted.] Finally it shall be the triumph of democracy, of unity, of the Constitution and of the mantra of Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishvas! [tathastu!!]

 The letter was signed by the following:” 

Signed by 62 celebrities.

****** 28th July 2019