‘I wonder what Narendra Modi’s stand on Section 377 is?” my colleague Vijay Shaw asked the day the Supreme Court reversed the Delhi High Court’s reading down of this law. At the time I expected the answer within hours. But a week has passed and we’re no better informed.
So what should we make of Mr Modi’s deafening silence? Does he not realise that as a serious candidate for prime minister it’s his moral, but also his political duty, to declare his position on an issue of such critical importance to so many people? Or does he really believe that if he keeps his head down and his lips sealed he can get away with saying nothing?
I realise this is an awkward subject. But that’s why Vijay’s question was so apt. That’s also why Mr Modi must speak out. We look to our leaders for a certain measure of guidance. We judge them by their stand on these momentous issues. This is a test of their leadership.
So far Mr Modi has slipped-up. If this continues much longer he will have failed. The reason I put it so starkly is simple: the issue won’t disappear or be forgotten whilst Mr Modi’s reluctance or inability to take a stand will be remembered. His present pusillanimity — and, frankly, that’s what it is — could undermine him.
Those who want the top job must be honest about making their positions known, have the courage to stand by them and the vision to be on the right side of morality, fundamental rights and history.
Now, by that yardstick, what’s the verdict on Mr Modi? He certainly doesn’t have the honesty or transparency to make his views known. Unless, of course, he has no view at all, which I find hard to believe.
On the other hand, if he does have a position by keeping it secret he’s suggesting he doesn’t have the courage to stand by it. If he endorses Rajnath Singh’s view, that homosexuality is unnatural, why doesn’t he stand up and say so and take on the chin the reproach and criticism that will follow? Or if he believes Section 377 is an infringement of fundamental rights and must be scrapped is he scared to say so because it will offend the RSS and a large section of BJP voters? Whatever the answer, it’s not going to embellish his credentials.
Despite their faults, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi didn’t hesitate to declare their position. Yet it was as risky for them as it would be for Mr Modi. And I’m sure many in the Congress wished they had not. But they did and it can only be because they realised they had to. Not just politically but, ultimately, morally.
I fear Mr Modi lacks similar inner conviction. On an issue that goes beyond politics and touches on liberty and our shared humanity he’s chosen to be political. His concern is to maximise votes not uphold principle.
The consequent irony is that the man who wants to defeat the ‘Delhi Sultanate’ has ended up behaving like them whilst they have broken free of conventional politics!
It’s not easy to be a leader when times are changing and old verities collapsing without a new morality taking their place. But those are the times we live in. That is the challenge Mr Modi faces.
Last week, with the world watching, he ducked it. It’s not a promising start to his campaign to become prime minister.
Views expressed by the author are personal