– Modi’s analogy splits open riot wounds
New Delhi, July 12: Narendra Modi today projected his “decisiveness” as an imperative in the season of policy paralysis but the message, probably meant for an English-reading audience, was drowned by a “kutte ka bachcha” reference made in the context of the Gujarat riots.
The BJP’s presumptive candidate for Prime Minister made the comments during an interview to Reuters, the international news agency, which uploaded edited excerpts on its website today and said that the replies had been translated from Hindi. The interview was given on June 25 at Modi’s official residence in Gandhinagar.
In the interview, Modi asserted that he was “decisive” but not “authoritarian”, agreed he was a polarising figure but strictly in a political sense and not a communal one, said he was a “human being” besides being a chief minister and defined the “real Modi” as a “nationalist”, a “born Hindu” and a “patriot”.
He saw no contradiction in dovetailing the classic RSS template of “Hindu nationalism” with being “progressive, development-oriented and a workaholic”.
The message that Modi, who mostly spoke in Hindi, wanted to send to an international audience was clear. “If you call yourself a leader, then you have to be decisive. If you’re decisive then you have the chance to be a leader. These are two sides of the same coin… People want him (a leader) to make decisions. Only then they accept the person as a leader. That is a quality, it’s not a negative,” he said.
The emphasis on “decisiveness” as a hallmark of “leadership” is a thought-through BJP strategy to show up the Manmohan Singh government as limp and indecisive. Modi is expected to be projected as a leader with little or no patience to look over his shoulders before clinching a decision.
But the decisiveness was in danger of being seen as recklessness by the evening.
Asked if he regretted what happened in the riots of 2002, Modi said: “India’s Supreme Court is considered a good court today in the world. The Supreme Court created a special investigative team (SIT) and top-most, very bright officers who oversee the SIT. That report came. In that report, I was given a thoroughly clean chit, a thoroughly clean chit.”
Then Reuters’ translated version quoted Modi as saying: “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 it 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.”
The word “puppy” drew a firestorm of protests on Twitter and elsewhere amid allegations that a despicable comparison was being made to the riot victims.
Later it emerged that the full sentence was, barring five words, in Hindi and many found the choice of metaphor more offensive and insensitive than the translated “puppy”.
The footage of the interview shows Modi as saying: “Hum agar car chala rahen hain… aur koi drive kar raha hai aur hum peechhe baithe hain, phir bhi ek chhota kutte ka bachcha bhi car ke neeche aa jata hai, toh humein pain feel hota hai ki nahin? Hota hai.”
This evening, Modi tweeted: “In our culture every form of life is valued & worshipped. My original interview with Reuters http://nm4.in/
The tweet did not explain why he had referred to the back seat though Modi was at the decision-maker’s wheel in Gujarat as chief minister when the riots took place.
The BJP, sections of which felt that Modi should have articulated his views in a less controversial manner, said it was “despicable” to say he was drawing any comparisons with a community.
The tone of the other comments in the interview was in line with the idea of propelling Modi on the stump as a “no-nonsense” head. The objective appeared to be to turn apolitical fence-sitters around and reassure his traditional support base.
Some heard in the intemperate remarks an undeclared assessment that Modi’s attempt to cast himself as a moderate had not made much headway among the minorities and that he had decided to focus on those frustrated with the state of affairs, including the economy, and his core constituency.
On the 2002 riots, Modi claimed he had “absolutely” done the “right thing” that year. “Absolutely,” he declared, adding: “However much brainpower the Supreme Being has given us, however much experience I’ve got and whatever I had available in that situation and this is what the SIT had investigated.”
Modi addressed a concern among his party colleagues that he has an authoritarian streak. “If someone was an authoritarian, then would he be able to run a government for so many years? Without a team effort, how can you get success? And that’s why I say Gujarat’s success is not Modi’s success. This is the success of Team Gujarat.”
Modi claimed he never “dreams of becoming anything”, quizzed on who he would emulate if he became Prime Minister, but humility did not appear a forte. “I can say that since 2003, in however many polls have been done, people have selected me as the best CM,” he said, adding that many of those polled were from outside Gujarat.
On the perception that he was “too polarising a figure”, Modi said: “If in America, if there was no polarisation between Democrats and Republicans, then how would democracy work? …If everyone moved in one direction, would you call that a democracy?”
Modi restated his definition of secularism as “India first” and said that while seeking votes, he would not divide the electorate into Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. “Religion should not be an instrument in your democratic process,” he said, less than a week after his political aide Amit Shah had emphasised he would like to see a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Modi denied the suggestion that his evolution as a “brand” was the result of a public relations strategy. He claimed that he had never employed a PR agency.
Maintaining that there was a “huge difference” between the West and India, he said neither a PR agency nor the media could “make anything of a person” here.
Seven days before Reuters published its exclusive, a privilege denied by PM aspirant to an Indian news agency or channel, we had been contacted persistently by a Reuters correspondent while I was in New Delhi (July 5).
Not Ross Colvin or Sruthi Gottipati who now carry the journalistic honour of grabbing moments with a man who rarely likes to be questioned, especially if the questions are persistent like say those of Karan Thapar in 2007. Thapar keen to get to the bottom of what Modi actually felt about 2002, did not simply casually record –as Reuters has done – Modi’s response but asked, insistently, whether Modi actually regretted the mass reprisal killings that had taken place, post Godhra, on his watch. Modi simpered, dithered, glared and admonished…when none of that worked, and Thapar persisted, Modi did what he does best. He walked out.
Not so with Reuters, that managed its exclusive but failed to, conspicuously, persist with any accurate, difficult or pinching questions.
The young man from Reuters who finally tracked me down in the Sahmat office at 29 Ferozeshah Road last week was clueless, he said, about Gujarat 2002. Apologetic about this ineptness, he kept saying that his bosses had asked him to track down the SIT report. They had not bothered to contact us directly.
We insisted that he, read Reuters, do what fair journalism demands, look at the SIT Clean Chit in context; examine also the Amicus Curaie Raju Ramachandran’s report that conflicted seriously with the SIT Closure and Clean Chit (opining that there was material to prosecute Narendra Modi on serious charges).
Both the SIT and the Amicus were appointed by the same Supreme Court. We insisted that Reuters examine the Supreme Court Order of 12.9.2011 that gave us the inalienable right to file a Protest Petition, we pointed out that Reuters must read the Protest Petition itself that we filed in pursuance of this order on 15.4.2013, peruse the arguments that we have been making before the Magistrate since June 25, 2013.
We tried, as best as we could, to communicate that Reuters should read the SIT Clean Chit in the context of these overall developments.
No, No said Reuters that had possibly already bagged the interview by then.
Who says a politically important interview should address all developments and facts, in a nutshell, tell the whole and complete story? Much better to perform a tokenism, throw in a few questions about 2002, not persist with questioning the man charged with conspiracy to commit mass murder and subvert criminal justice with the complexities and gravity of charges and legal procedures that he currently faces – and which are being argued in Open Court in Ahmedabad. Easier to be glib, grab headlines in all national dailies including by the way the one in Telegraph which is the only newspaper to report that Modi used “kutte ke bacche” not puppy as an analogy for which creatures may inadvertently get crushed when a “road accident happens.” Never mind that many have been convicted for criminal negligence when they drive and kill.
On business and development, too, while Reuters plugs the man themselves in the first paragraph of the interview, there are no real probing questions on Foreign Direct Investment, the Gujarat government’s back out to solar power companies (reported two days ago in the Economic Times) and so on….
So quite apart from the more than despicable “kutte ke bacche” comment that Modi reportedly made, quite apart from the fact that he chose Reuters for his debutante mutterings not a national agency or channel, what is truly tragic about the whole exercise is the compliant journalism that it reflects.
The Reuters interview is not a dispassionate or thorough exercise that attempts to genuinely probe opinions and views. It is a sensational tokenism.
Teesta Setalvad, secretary Citizens for Justice and Peace