Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday cracked a joke about a father reading his daughter’s suicide note, triggering disbelief and outrage, with the Congress saying this was his real face peeping out through his carefully crafted image. “This is your truth. The shining image of yours, painted and polished by the media, is just a mask that slips frequently and the truth comes in front of the people. The cheap jibes, the meanness, the cruelty… that’s the real face,” Congress social media head Supriya Shrinate said.RJD Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha said what was more distasteful was the laughter and clapping from the audience at the Prime Minister’s joke. “We have become a very sick society,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Thousands of families lose their children because of suicide. The Prime Minister should not make fun of them.”
News of suicide by a 19-year-old girl, Rashi Jain, who was preparing in Kota for the medical entrance exam, had come in barely hours before the noise of laughter from the Republic TV event where Modi spoke.
“In our childhood, we used to hear a joke. I want to share that with you,” Modi said.“There was a professor. His daughter committed suicide. She left behind a chit saying ‘I am tired. I don’t want to live. I will jump into the Kankariya pond and die.’ In the morning, the daughter was not at home. They found the chit. The father got livid. He said I am a professor, worked so hard on her. Even then she misspelled Kankariya.”
Many social media users reacted with horror. Some put out an old video that appears to show Modi laughing while purportedly speaking on the people’s miseries following the 2016 demonetisation.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra posted a message saying: “Depression and suicide, especially among the youth, is not a laughing matter. According to NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) data, 164,033 Indians committed suicide in 2021. Of which a huge percentage were below the age of 30.
“This is a tragedy, not a joke. The Prime Minister and those laughing heartily at his joke ought to educate themselves better and create awareness rather than ridicule mental health issues in this insensitive, morbid manner.”
Modi has been known to crack questionable jokes on unfortunate people earlier too. He had ended up mocking dyslexic students (who have difficulty reading) a few years ago while taking a dig at Rahul Gandhi during a videoconference with students. When a student spoke of a project to boost the creativity of dyslexic children, Modi asked whether it would also help “children who are 40-50 years old”.When the student said it would, Modi responded: “The mothers of such children will be very happy in that case.”
However, the BJP was on Thursday more outraged about a comment by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge.“Modi andre, ee vishada havidhange. Neevandru, edu visha ada illa nodona swalpa nekki nodona antha nekkakka hogiri…. Nekkra satha. Illa idu visha adano illvo Modi kottana, olley manushya pradhana mantri, naavu swalpa nodona, nekki nodona antha heli aa vishavanna nekki nodidare, neevu malage bidtiralli,” Kharge told a poll rally in Karnataka.
A translation: Modi is like a poisonous snake. Do not try licking it to confirm whether it’s poisonous. If you do it you will be dead. If you think it’s been given by Modi, a good man, the Prime Minister, so let’s lick and see, you’ll be left sleeping (you’ll be dead) there itself.
Kharge soon issued a clarification, asserting that he was talking about the divisive politics and hateful ideology of the RSS-BJP and not about Modi the individual.
He said he had nothing personal against Modi and that the fight was against the ideology he represented. Kharge said he had suffered a lot in life and never made fun of people or launched personal attacks. But the BJP pounced on him, alleging that Kharge had revealed the mindset of the Congress.
Karnataka chief minister S.R. Bommai said the poison was in Kharge’s mind, while Union minister Anurag Thakur said “this is worse than Sonia Gandhi’s maut ka saudagar (merchant of death) comment”.
Sonia had made the comment during the 2007 Gujarat election campaign. Modi, a dab hand at playing the victim of personal vilification, had exploited the remark to seek voter sympathy. With the BJP so far on the defensive in Karnataka, the party and Modi are expected to use Kharge’s comment to divert attention from bread-and-butter issues.
Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh tried to undo the damage by recalling how Modi had used foul language all along, going to the extent of describing Sonia as “Congress ki vidhva (the Congress’s widow)”. But the Congress fears that its issue-based campaign might get hijacked now.