NEW DELHI: Headline: “PM Narendra Modi breaks his silence, says govt will ensure undeniable right to retain, adopt religion of choice” - February 18,2015

Headline: “PM Modi breaks silence on Dadri, says country has to stay united” - October 8,2015

For a media without memory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at an election meeting in Bihar on October 8 became the news for the television star anchors to focus on without a reminder that just about eight months ago he had said almost the very same words, albeit in a slightly different context.

In February PM Modi said,“Speaking for India, and for my government, I declare that my government stands by every word of the above declaration. My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions.”

In October he has said: “I have said it earlier also. Hindus should decide whether to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims have to decide whether to fight Hindus or poverty….Both need to fight poverty together…. The country has to stay united.

“Some politicians are making irresponsible statements for political interests… Such statements should end… Do not pay attention to such statements, even if Modi himself makes any such statement.”

PM Modi’s February comments came after a vicious cycle of violence targeting Muslims, Hindutva mobs were then roaming the districts of Uttar Pradesh and other states, on the pretext of ‘rescuing’ girls abducted by Muslim boys under the ‘love jihad’ slogan; or ‘reconverting’ those they claimed had been forcibly converted to Christianity under the virulent ‘ghar wapsi’ program.

The terror was so stark and deep that even US President Barack Obama while in India as the state guest for the Republic Day parade, said on the day of his departure "Every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines,"

And followed this in Washington at the White House annual prayer meeting where he said, "Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation."

Feeling the pressure PM Modi finally broke his long silence over the months long ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar wapsi’ programs targeting the minorities. President Obama’s comments hurt, and it was necessary for a Prime Minister set to woo the world to back off. He did, and with his remarks ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar wapsi’ programs though simmering at times, also waned.

The next big campaign launched by the Hindutva organisations now is on the beef ban. The accompanying propaganda stereotyping all Muslims as killers of the cow is being spread all over the country, from Jammu and Kashmir down into the other states, as now the Muslim youth from abducting Hindu girls, have donned the garb of cow killers. Passions are aroused by provocative speeches, and the private armies made to attack through the spread of rumours. The concern of liberal and democratic India came to a head when a mob, following rumours and an announcement from a temple, attacked and brutally killed Mohammad Akhlaq at his home in Dadri village. His son is battling for his life in a hospital, and the incident struck a chord with the people of not just India but the world.

The foreign media carried this story on the front page, and in great detail with several newspapers recalling the Gujarat violence. There was a strong realisation even in PM Modi’s support base in India that the private armies had gone too far in this case, even as petitions were signed, and pressure built on the social media for the PM to break his silence.

He did with the above remarks that stand out for : one, he did not mention Dadri or express any regret for the poor Muslim killed so brutally and the others set to flee their homes in fear of more such attacks;

two, there was no assurance from the PM to the terrorised minorities for their security;

three, he asked both Hindus and Muslims to stop fighting each other and while that could have been true in another context, at another point in time, currently the Muslims are under attack so the equation is not justified;

four, he said that politicians making such statements should be ignored when it is not the statements but the deep campaign of rumours, and lies that actually creates the violence and provokes mobs to attack the created ‘other’.

As if on cue television news channels, with full ignorance on display, went on to hail the PM’s decision to break the silence, without analysing what he had actually said, and why? Sections of the corporate media, controlled as always by the government in power (the Congress was as adept as the BJP in manipulating the news) projected the PMs statement as an act of concern, without delving deeper into the issue. In fact when an opposition leader on one of the channels tried to point this out, the star anchor shut him up with a long homily on, the PM has spoken so why are you going on with this, why cant we just say well done and move on?

Well, the proof of the pudding as the proverb goes is in the eating. The media had embraced PM Modi’s remarks in February as well, after which the communal violence continued as did the inflammatory speeches by many leaders in the BJP and RSS at different points of time. Within weeks the new beef campaign was launched and it peaked with the lynching.

It remains to be seen whether PM Modi’s words now usher in peace as the television channels insist, or whether these herald a pause followed by the start of yet another campaign?