Monday, December 30, 2013

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s articles talk about Narendra Modi and the continuing cloud that hangs over him about the Gujarat Riots of 2002 and his supposed role (or not) in them.

The first article is from “The Diplomat”; the second is from “The Times of India” and is linked from the first article:

Method in Modi's Melancholy

Is Narendra Modi really in “anguish” about the 2002 Gujarat Riots?

By Sanjay Kumar for The Diplomat
December 30, 2013

Recently, at a book release in New Delhi, a famous news editor recalled an informal conversation with the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee immediately after the 2004 elections. He quoted Vajpayee as saying that “Narendra Modi would offer prayers in a mosque five times a day if he senses a chance to become India’s Prime Minister.”

When Narendra Modi’s blog post appeared last Friday evening – in which he indirectly expresses anguish about Gujarat riots of 2002 for the first time in more than a decade – Vajpayee’s jestful comment started ringing in my mind. This is the first direct attempt by the hardcore Hindu right-wing leader to reach out to India’s minority Muslims since he became the Chief Minister (CM) of Gujarat in 2001.

The 2002 Gujarat riots claimed more than 1000 Muslim lives. After eleven years of deafening silence on the matter, Modi, who now happens to be the prime ministerial candidate of the main opposition party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), spoke about the incident that has come to define his political persona. In a blog post, Modi exonerates himself from any wrongdoing and claims that he reacted “more swiftly and decisively to the violence than ever done before in any previous riots in the country.” He further writes that “‘Grief’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Misery’, ‘Pain’, ‘Anguish’, ‘Agony’ – mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity … This is the first time I am sharing the harrowing ordeal I had gone through in those days at a personal level.”

Modi is often blamed by his critics for not doing enough to control the pogrom that claimed many lives in the early part of 2002.

The 64 year old Hindu right-wing leader never entertained any questions about the communal riots. He would refuse to respond to journalists and even walked out of TV studios if any question related to 2002 was asked during an interview.

Even six months ago in an interview with an international news agency, he refused to give a straight answer to a direct question about the infamous riots which came to define his image as an anti-Muslim figure and made him a mascot for hardcore Hindutva types.

Some of the remarks that he made during the course of the interview stirred controversy and his critics slammed him for not showing any pain or remorse at the tragedy.
Why is Modi now using words like “‘Grief’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Misery’, ‘Pain’, ‘Anguish’, ‘Agony’” – all with capital letters – more than a decade after the fact?

The move was precipitated by a lower court’s verdict in Gujarat that cleared Modi of any wrongdoing in the 2002 riot case. The court upheld a Special Investigation Team (SIT) report which exonerated Modi.

In a television interview, political commentator Ashok Malik noted that “Modi is trying to reach out to minority Muslims whose support is crucial in forming a government in New Delhi. By writing the blog post, he is trying to make amends with the largest minority in India. He will not succeed in wooing all the Muslims and liberals. He will, however, succeed in convincing a few.”

Political parties in India reacted as expected, with the BJP welcoming Modi’s blog post and blaming Congress for running a malicious campaign against their prime ministerial candidate. The ruling Congress however called it “political opportunism.”

When The Diplomat contacted Zakia Jafri, one of the victims of the Gujarat riots, whose husband was burnt alive by rioters, and asked her for her reaction to Modi’s blog post, she termed it “an insult to the victims and their families.” She added that “this man used the state machinery to subvert justice at each and every stage and never demonstrated any remorse either in word or deed for the tragedy that took place under his very nose. Now through his post, he is portraying himself a victim of malicious campaign … this is an abuse of the sensibilities of the victims.”

Vinod Sharma, the political editor of The Hindustan Times calls Modi’s “anguish” too little, too late – an insult to those who had to suffer for more than a decade. In an interview with The Diplomat, the veteran journalist says that “the Gujarat leader is trying to emotionalize the whole situation by presenting himself as a victim. Even if he was not responsible directly for the riots he, as a head of the state, had a vicarious responsibility to own up to the failure of his government. Through the blog post he is trying to navigate the debate and shift the focus away from his past deeds which we need to scrutinize very closely. How can we allow a politician with such a past to become the prime minister of the country?”

For the last one year there has been a systematic attempt on the part of the Modi campaign to refurbish his image from that of a hardcore Hindutva leader to something more moderate, with a focus on his economic achievements. There has been constant attempt by his supporters to highlight his accomplishments in the development of Gujarat – Modi made the state a leading economic hub within India.

The image-building exercise got a further boost in September this year when he was declared the prime ministerial candidate for the BJP. In his public rallies, there has been a very concerted effort to tone down any anti-Muslim rhetoric and showcase the image of a tolerant leader working for the welfare of all communities. It is in this context that Modi developed the slogan of “India first.”

Friday’s blog post is one more exercise in image building by attempting to reach out to Muslims. Muslims constitute 13 percent of India’s population and continue to play a decisive role in the victory of more than 120 parliamentarians out of 545 in the Lok Sabha. Modi understands that despite a strong anti-incumbency wave in the country against the ruling Congress, the BJP cannot capture power unless it has the backing of India’s minority communities, something he can’t accomplish unless he presents the face of a moderate leader.

This image makeover is also necessary to attract potential coalition partners. The BJP knows that on its own the party has but a slim chance of forming a government.Modi commands the image of a Hindu hardliner, which alienates certain regional parties. By wooing Muslims, the Gujarat strongman wants to be perceived as an inclusive figure.

But at a time when there is a palpable sense of distrust among voters against established political parties and their hollow tokenism, Modi’s Muslim outreach might backfire on him and his party. The success of the rookie Aam Aadmi Party or Common Man’s Party in the New Delhi assembly elections is a case in point.

Social activists like Javed Anand, who has been fighting for the welfare of the Gujarat riot victims for more than a decade, question the timing and intent of Modi’s blog post: “In the last ten years the Chief Minister of Gujarat never visited any of the refugee camps for the victims; he made no attempt to rehabilitate the hundreds of people who lost everything in that tragedy, and he never tried to reconcile the two communities in his twelve years in office. How can he expect us to trust him and his anguish?”

After the recent success of the BJP in the assembly elections, Modi sees a win at the polls next year within the realm of possibility. He no longer wants to be the prisoner of his image. Therefore, it’s very much possible that as the election campaign for India’s general elections ramp up, Modi will not hesitate in pandering to Muslim voters to seek votes for his party.


2002 riots: Modi's 'puppy' remark kicks up political storm

PTI Jul 12, 2013, 06.25PM IST

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Friday kicked up a political storm by saying he had done "absolutely the right thing" during the 2002 riots and describing himself as a "Hindu nationalist".

Modi came under sharp attack from the Congress, Samajwadi Party, CPM, CPI and JD(U) for his remarks in an interview to Reuters during which he said he had not done anything wrong with regard to the riots. An SIT set up by the Supreme Court had given him a "thoroughly clean chit", he said.
Modi, in the interview said, "Another thing, any person if we are driving a car, we are a driver, and someone else is driving a car and we're sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will be painful or not? Of course, it is. If I'm a chief minister or not, I'm a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad," Modi said.

Answering a question about being regarded as a polarizing figure, Modi cited the example of Democrats and Republicans in the US to emphasize that polarization was "democracy's basic nature".

Asked whether he believed India should have a secular leader, the chief minister said, "We do believe that. But what is the definition of secularism? For me, my secularism is, India first. I say the philosophy of my party is 'justice to all, appeasement of none'. This is our secularism."

To a question about criticism that he was an authoritarian, he said, "if you call yourself a leader, then you have to be decisive. If you are decisive, then you have the chance to be a leader. These are two sides to the same coin.

"People want him (leader) to make decisions. Only then they accept the person as a leader. That is a quality, it is not a negative. The other thing is, if someone was authoritarian, then how would he be able to run a government for so many years?

Without a team effort, how can you get success?"

Queried how he would persuade minorities, including Muslims, to vote for him, Modi said he saw all voters as Indians and he would not like to divide the country.

"Hindus and Muslims, I am not in favour of dividing. I am not in favour of dividing Hindus and Sikhs. I am not in favour of dividing Hindus and Christians. All the citizens, all the voters, are my countrymen. So my basic philosophy is, I don't address this issue like this. And this is a danger to democracy also. Religion should not be an instrument in your democratic process."

The Gujarat strongman's comment, when asked if he regretted the riots, that even if a "puppy comes under the wheel" of a car, one felt sad, drew particularly sharp condemnation with SP accusing him of comparing Muslims to dogs.

Congress and SP demanded immediate apology to the nation from him.

Slamming Modi, Congress said the remarks reflected his "perverse mindset" and were "totally against the idea of India".

"Thousands of people lost their lives in the 2002 riots and in this backdrop the analogy used by Narendra Modi needs to be strongly condemned. There is no place for such a comparison in civilized India," said Ajay Maken, AICC communications department head, in a reference to the "puppy" remark.

Samajwadi Party spokesman Kamal Farooqui said, "It is a very sad, very humiliating and very disturbing statement ... What does he (Modi) think, that Muslims are worse than even puppies? He does not have a heart for them. He should feel sorry ... He should apologize," Farooqui said.

"He (Modi) should be ashamed for using such a language," the SP leader said, adding, "the earlier he apologizes, the better it will be. Otherwise, there will be dangerous consequences."

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