July 10, 2015 / 6:23 AM / 2 years ago

Indian prime minister chooses silence as opposition attacks

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a meeting at the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summits in Ufa, Russia, July 8, 2015. REUTERS/Ivan Sekretarev/Pool - RTX1JKW4

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a skilled orator and prolific on social media, so his studied silence about allegations of corruption and influence trafficking affecting his party has set other tongues wagging.

At rowdy election rallies last year, Modi used Hindi to deride his reserved predecessor Manmohan Singh as Maun-mohan, or Silent-mohan, when the then leader slipped from the public eye as his government was engulfed by scandal.

Now headline writers have started to splash “Maun-Modi”.

The prime minister is never far from the public eye, churning out dozens of tweets and Facebook posts between public events, even when abroad, such as on his trip to a summit of developing world leaders in Russia this week.

But he has yet to utter a word on controversies surrounding his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the past three weeks - namely help Rajasthan’s chief minister and the foreign minister gave to a cricket tycoon, and a spate of deaths linked to an exam cheating scandal.

The opposition is calling for resignations and is likely to use the issues later this month to disrupt a session of parliament Modi hopes to use to pass major tax and land reforms.

Swapan Dasgupta, a political analyst with links to the BJP, said the reticence should not surprise seasoned Modi-watchers, since the premier has a record of avoiding inconvenient issues.

“He likes to do battles in an arena of his own choosing,” Dasgupta said. “There is a risk to this strategy, but in the past it has worked.”

Modi famously walked out of a television interview in 2007 after five minutes of questions about his role during religious riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, while he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat.

He then avoided the subject for years and managed to replace a reputation as a hardline Hindu nationalist with a positive image as an economic reformer.

Still, his lack of words about alleged corruption among politicians, an issue that helped him sweep the opposition Congress out of power last year, inevitably draws comparisons with his campaign disdain for Singh.

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday recalled Modi’s election promise that he wouldn’t be corrupt, or allow others to be corrupt - or “to eat” in colloquial Hindi.

“So why are you allowing them to eat in Rajasthan, why are you allowing Shivraj Singh Chouhan to eat?” Gandhi said, referring to the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh at the center of the exam cheating scandal.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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