Prime Minister Narendra Modi today used an anecdote on Stalin’s Russia in Parliament, in what was seen as his comeback to allegations against the government in the JNU case.
“Russian PM Nikita Khrushchev used to criticize Stalin after his death. A young man once asked him – ‘Why are you criticizing Stalin? What did you do when he was alive and you worked with him?’ He told the person – ‘You have got the answer? What you are able to do now, I wanted to but couldn’t during Stalin’s time’,” PM Modi said in the Lok Sabha. There was laughter from the government benches at this.
The Prime Minister’s words were widely seen as his indirect response to the intolerance and free speech debate spurred by the arrest of students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University on charges of sedition. Three students were arrested and three more charged for allegedly participating in an event on the JNU campus to mark the February 9 anniversary of the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, where anti-India slogans were raised.
JNU students, faculty and opposition parties like the Congress have accused the government of overstepping its limits and taking excessive action in a case that, they say, could have been handled within the university.
The BJP has also confronted students’ anger over Hyderabad research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide, blamed on alleged caste discrimination in campuses.
In a speech that rebutted opposition criticism point-by-point, PM Modi appeared to imply that in his regime, people can at least question the government.
“Any person can ask us questions, they have the right to. But there are some who are not accountable… no one dares to ask them, no one dares to tell them anything. And I have seen what happens to those who try to,” he said, without taking names.
Yesterday, Rahul Gandhi had quipped: “Modiji is a very powerful man. Everybody feels a bit scared of him, I do too. But we should ask him questions sometimes.”