“I do not pity the wounded
I become the wounded”
wrote the great poet Walt Whitman. He worked with the wounded , offering his services tirelessly in the Civil war.
In India we have many great people who chose to live and work for the deprived. Mahaswetha devi for one, worked all her life for the invisible, marginalized tribal communities of Bengal. When her work was rewarded with the Magsaysay award, she said,“My India still lives behind a curtain of darkness. A curtain that separates the mainstream society from the poor and the deprived. It is important that we all make an attempt to tear the curtain of darkness, see the reality that lies beyond and see our own true faces in the process.”
Empathy is however difficult for our politicians today. They are so far removed from the suffering and alienation of the common people and so close to the oppressors/neo-rich, both in the public and personal domains that they cannot really share the former’s pain and agony. But politics requires them to say all the right things to maintain the facade of a democracy. Empathy has to be expressed even if not felt.
The opposition can afford to make greater noises, now that they must behave like the opposition but things are more difficult for the ruling government. The Prime Minister has to say his “man ki baat,” talk to global leaders in his frequent globe trotting trips, read from prepared scripts, sometimes look at invisible screens (as while addressing the US Senate) and say the right words at the right time. How very difficult it is for him! No wonder his couterie, the trusted Home Minister speaks on behalf of the PM for internal issues and manages to convey to us his deep distress many times and Mr. Venkaiah Naidu cries out loud- How can the PM react to every single incident that happens in this country?
But a look at the incidents/events to which the PM has not responded or had to respond( under pressure) provides great insight on the tight rope walking our leaders are forced to do.
In an interview with the Reuters he was asked if he regretted the Gujarat riots of 2002. His reply was “… any person if we are driving a car, we are a driver, and someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course, it is. If I’m a Chief Minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.”
This reply shocked the world press Reuters,comparing a whole community to dogs. But this was before the 2014 elections. After Modi became the Prime Minister, his responses have been that of a seasoned politician who can afford the best speech writers. After all his suit worth 4.3 crores has entered the Guiness records?? India is now a growing economy.
Answering a BBC journalist in 2015 on the growing intolerance in India, he said, “India does not accept intolerance even if it is one or two or three incidents. Whether a single incident is significant for a country of 1.25 billion people does not matter. For us every incident is serious. We do not tolerate it. The law acts strongly and will continue to do so.”
Below are a few more samples of his growing political maturity-only they were very late in coming.
Modi described the Dadri lynching as “undesirable and unfortunate” and made clear that his government had nothing to do with them but accused the opposition of indulging in “pseudo secularism.”
On Rohith Vemula’s death “What must have his family gone through? Mother India lost a dear son. Reasons and politics aside, the truth is that a mother has lost a son. I can very well feel the agony.”
When the BJP lawyers openly manhandled the students, faculty and did not even spare the journalists in delhi, the PM remained silent. By then the whole country was successfully polarized by his party into nationalists and anti-nationalists .
His reaction to “Gau-rakshaks inhumanity to the Dalits for skinning a dead cow,” though too late was full of his usual bravado. “We will have to strive hard to protect our nation from such anti-social elements. We will have to expose such people. If you want to attack, attack me and not Dalits. If you want to shoot, shoot me and not Dalits.”
But this rhetoric for each occasion has not been followed by action. No wonder all cannot become politicians.