Modi enters the list of classic gaffes with his comparison of south Indian state of Kerala with Somalia. Others in the list are Queen Elizabeth with “the Chinese are very rude” and Prime Minister Cameron with “Fantastically corrupt Afghanistan and Nigeria.” A special report from Bikram Vohra
Since my wife is from Kerala, she is naturally a little more incensed over the statement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi about infant mortality among Scheduled Tribes in that state being worse than Somalia. The quantum leap in the PM’s imagination is impressive. What chain of thought compelled Mr Modi to think of an African country out of context and speak about it in a public rally? Nor is it simply a diplomatic gaffe of the highest proportion, it is also tactless and unnecessary. Why not just say we have to look into the problem, address it and find a solution?
For dropped bricks, one thought Queen Elizabeth was way ahead this week with her “The Chinese are very rude” comment, followed closely by British PM David Cameron who called Afghanistan and Nigeria the most corrupt nations in the world. But Mr Modi has obviously narrowed the gap. One has to wonder what compulsions exist for people in high places to go so totally off the verbal rails.
Naturally, the Modi faux pas has generated a certain amount of agitation and anger, what with comparative graphics coming out on Kerala and Gujarat and on how far ahead the southern one is.
The thing is that once you have said something silly, it is so difficult to stuff it back again. Every explanation only makes it worse. Silence also doesn’t make it go away.
In itself, the remark is so ridiculous that it could have been dismissed as irrelevant. Modi has become so accustomed to being given accolades after his performance on the mike that he has begun to take liberties. But when you are the PM of a country and you are visiting a state, then you should be doubly careful.
For someone whose rhetoric has defined him, Namo is obviously becoming starting to believe that he can say and do anything and trample convention and courtesy. Either that or he is rattled by the lack of love in the public that he was taking for granted. Perhaps the nibblings at the hem of his credibility, the brouhaha over his degrees and the general disenchantment with a government that is pretty much in hiding is taking its toll.
What is worrying is that Modi is not doing his homework, and his advisors are not getting their cue cards in order. The picture of young boys eating out of a dumpster in Kannur which prompted the comment was out of context. Who advised him to speak about it?
Will it bruise the BJP in the electoral battlefield come 16 May? For sheer bad timing, this remark sucks big time. I think it will. Malayalees are a very proud people and hugely sensitive about anything Malayalee. They do not brook criticism easily and are politically hyper active, more so than other states. And this criticism was in the realm of the absurd.
A year or six months later, the slur may be forgotten or softened by the passage of time. There is less than a week to go for the Assembly elections. The outcry on social media platforms is shrill and aggressive, and the remark will balloon into an indictment of all things Keralite by the Prime Minister of India. And that is going to sit very badly with the voters.
The average guy on the street coffee corner will only hear one sentiment: Modi doesn’t like Keralites.
Perception is all. There is absolutely no time for damage control. For shooting yourself in the foot, Namo, this one is hard to beat.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Mogadishu, an Indian ambassador is probably getting dressed to respond to a summons from the Foreign Ministry.