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Narendra Modi in a soup, moves constantly backfiring

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: PM aspirant and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi chose a foreign agency to give his first interview after taking over his new role as BJP's election committee head. While many say that this was meant to be a clever strategy to get a wider reach on foreign shores and project his image as a progressive and industry oriented next generation leader, it looks like the move has backfired due to a comment made in the interview.

In an interview given to Reuters, Narendra Modi in his reaction to a question on Gujarat riots in 2002, said, ''If 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, if I’m a chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.” This reply has been taken in different context by different political parties.

Despite often being careful with words, Narendra Modi’s puppy remark in an interview with Reuters has raised a political storm. Given his prime-ministerial ambitions, everything he says or does invites close scrutiny, provoking sharp criticism of any slip-up from opponents and vehement justifications from acolytes. An apology for a bad analogy, for being misunderstood and for causing an unintended hurt could have lessened the pain of the aggrieved.

But Modi does not believe in apologising. Humility is a trait his character is apparently devoid of. It is perhaps contrary to the image of a strongman he is building for himself. Modi has not apologised for the 2002 Muslim massacre even though being the Chief Minister then, he cannot escape moral responsibility, at least.

A minister in his government, Maya Kodnani, has been convicted for handing out swords to rioters and exhorting them to target Muslims. His then Home Minister, Amit Shah, is facing trial.

Senior police officers of Gujarat have been charge-sheeted. But Modi defends himself saying that a special investigation team set up by the Supreme Court has found no evidence of his involvement.

In public speeches and media interviews Modi projects himself as a development-oriented, decisive leader capable of taking hard measures to lift the economy. This projection is in line with the BJP strategy of painting the UPA government as “limp and indecisive”.

In the Reuters interview Modi described himself as a “nationalist”, a “born Hindu” and “a patriot”. With the open RSS backing and Amit Shah raising the temple issue, it is not hard to guess what section of society they address in not-so-subtle ways.

Another take-away from the interview is that Modi, commenting on the perception of his being “a polarising figure”, said the polarisation of the Democrats and the Republicans helped democracy work in the US. It is this tragic flaw in his character which could deny him the support of some senior leaders of the BJP as well as of other parties, should there be a chance to form a government, and thus frustrate his dream of becoming the PM.

Human rights groups and political rivals have long alleged that Modi, a Hindu and a dominant force in BJP, allowed or even actively encouraged the 2002 attacks. Modi has always vehemently denied the charge, and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.

Modi has always insisted that he did all that he could to stop the violence. "Up till now, we feel that we used our full strength to set out to do the right thing," he told Reuters.

A special investigation team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the role of Modi and others in the violence said in a 541-page report in 2012 it could find no evidence to prosecute the chief minister.

Analysts have said it is unclear how much of a factor the 2002 riots will be in the next general election, which is due by May 2014 but could be called as early as November.

Modi, praised by business leaders for his state's booming economy, is widely seen as his party's strongest candidate to become prime minister.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]
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