Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed at politicians offering outrageous explanations for a spate of rapes in the country, delivering a statesman-like first speech to parliament on Wednesday that also tackled several hot-button issues, including empowering Muslims.
Responding to the debate on the president’s speech, Modi spoke of the urgent need to clean up politics, arming the youth with job-acquiring skills and ensuring equitable development in a nearly hour-long address that also promised an inclusive approach towards states in pursuing development.
The speech was seen as an attempt by the prime minister to rise above politics and reach out to a cross section of society over issues that have stoked both public anger as well as expectations from the government.
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Breaking his silence over the rape and murder of two girls in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun, Modi asked politicians to stop “psychoanalysing” the reasons behind sex crimes. The prime minister was apparently referring to a string of leaders, including from his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who have recently made controversial comments on why rapes take place.
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From blaming it on the effects of television to calling rape unintentional, such remarks by politicians have underscored an insensitive approach to solving the crisis and added to public anger.
"Does it suit us to make comments on such incidents, can we not be quiet? We are playing with the dignity of women,” Modi said.
"All these incidents should make us introspect. The country won't wait and people won't forget."
As well as on rape, the prime minister also spoke about the need for empowering minorities, pointing at an incident in Pune this month in which a Muslim youth was clobbered to death by a mob, apparently in protest against the circulation of morphed, offensive images of Chhatrapatu Shivaji and Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray.
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"Government will have to act tought to tackle rapes and incident like Pune … we must introspect,” he said.
Long accused of his antipathy towards Muslims, who according to a government-sponsored panel's report are among the poorest in the country, Modi said, "When I was young, a Muslim man used to repair cycles.
“Today his son is doing the same job. Why is this? We need to focus on their development," he said to the thumping of desks by lawmakers from the ruling coalition.
Before Modi took the floor, several speakers heaped praise on the prime minister while opposition Congress lawmakers questioned the new government’s ability to come good on the promises it was making to the country.
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Modi, sometimes criticised by his opponents for favouring corporates, made a strong pitch for the uplift of the poor.
"Is government not only for the educated and the rich … The government is for the poor too. The rich can educate their children anywhere in the world; can treat their children in any medical facility," he said.
"But the poor only have government schools and hospitals. If the government does not work in this direction, the poor will not forgive us.”
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