Hitting out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his long silence over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua and the alleged rape of a teenager by a BJP MLA in Unnao, former prime minister Manmohan Singh told The Indian Express that Modi “should follow his own advice to me” and “speak more often”.
In an exclusive interview, Singh said he was glad that Modi finally broke his silence last Friday at an event in Delhi commemorating the birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, when he said the “daughters of India” will get justice and the guilty won’t be spared.
Asked about the manner in which the BJP would taunt him, calling him ‘Maun-Mohan Singh’ when he chose silence over speech on several matters during the last months of his government, the former PM said he “had lived with comments like these his whole life”.
Singh said that Modi’s failure to speak up earlier had allowed people to think that they could get away without stern action being taken against them. “I do feel that those in authority must speak up in time (so as) to give a lead to their followers,” he said.
In the wake of the Delhi gangrape in 2012, the Congress party and his government had taken necessary action by amending the laws around rape, said Singh.
Asked if J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had handled the Kathua rape case properly, Singh said, “She could have handled this more seriously, taken matters into her hands right from the beginning and taken a firm stand” to bring the guilty to book without delay. He said that there may have been pressures on her from her coalition partner, the BJP, to go slow, especially since two BJP ministers — they have since resigned — in her government had come out in favour of the rape accused.
“There are bound to be pressures…but if it is carried to such an extent that you can condone the sad demise of an eight-year-old girl having been raped and kept for a week in a temple, that is the most shocking thing,” said Singh.
The father of three daughters, Singh said he was distressed to read reports about the child, especially when her father said (The Indian Express, April 13) the girl was so young that she “didn’t know who is Hindu and who is Muslim, what is her left or right hand”. The fact that an attempt was made by the BJP to give the incident a communal colour, and that the “two (former) ministers (in the J&K) government were also party to fanning communal tensions is also disgraceful”, he said.
The former PM also castigated many of the BJP’s state governments “for turning a blind eye” to law and order issues, especially around women’s safety, the lynching of Muslims as well as the baiting of Dalits. These three issues were bound to snowball in this last year before general elections in 2019, he said.
“People are misusing the authority of government. They think they can get away with it…law and order is the responsibility of state governments. The BJP government at the Centre could send instructions to its state governments to ensure that law and order is properly enforced, and minorities and Dalits and women are treated properly,” he said.