Any man can make a mistake once. But if it’s repeated you may well wonder if it was an accident. Chances are it was deliberate. To demur could be to deny an obvious logic staring you in the face.
So when the Prime Minister repeated his allegations about Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar “stealing” OBC, Mahadalit and Dalit quotas to give them to an unidentified — but, nonetheless, clearly recognisable — religious community, 24 hours after first making them, I fear he meant what he was saying and was also well aware of what he was suggesting. That has not only upset and depressed me, it raises the question is Mr Modi in possible breach of his oath of office?
First, the facts. On Monday, at a rally in Buxar, Mr Modi said, according to the English translation published by the newspapers: “What do Lalu and Nitish want to do with the OBC and EBC? They want to snatch 5% reservations. 5% from the Dalits, 5% from the Mahadalits, 5% from the OBC and 5% from the EBC. They are conspiring to give it to a religious community.”
On Tuesday he repeated the charge at Bettiah but this time he accused Lalu and Nitish of “chori”. In other words, he upped the accusation to “stealing” — and not just “snatching” — OBC and Dalit reservations to give to an unidentified religious community.
Now who might this religious community be? Mr Modi didn’t say but I feel pretty certain he had Muslims in mind. First, because other than Christian Dalits there is no demand from India’s Christians for reservations. Second, he gave the game away when he said “we all know reservations cannot be given on the basis of religion”.
That was a fairly clear reference to the Muslim community for whom Andhra Pradesh created 4.5% reservations, which the Supreme Court has stayed.
Let’s now come to the questions that arise. First, does Mr Modi have any proof to back up his allegation or is it simply fiction? If he does, he hasn’t made it public.
More important, however, is a second issue. Think carefully about what the Prime Minister was suggesting. Does it not seem as if he was — and perhaps not so subtly — portraying Muslims as a threat to OBCs, Dalits and Mahadalits?
Certainly when he added the promise, “I won’t let such a plot succeed even if it involves sacrificing my life,” he presented himself as their champion and saviour.
If my interpretation is correct — and on this occasion I yearn to be wrong — the Prime Minister is pitting communities against each other. He’s suggesting a conflict of interest and, you could argue, even sowing the seeds of discord.
I have to admit this has shaken me. I find it hard to believe this is what Mr Modi really intends. After all, prime ministers can make mistakes and Mr Modi might have erred grievously. But then, remember, he didn’t say it just once. He said it twice and the second time he used the word “stealing”.
On May 26, 2014, when he took his oath of office, Mr Modi made the following commitment: “I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law.” At Buxar, and then again in Bettiah, did Mr Modi breach that solemn promise?
Our Prime Minister is an intelligent man and I want to believe in his integrity. So I’ll readily accept whatever answer he gives me.
The views expressed by the author are personal.