( Why Narendra Modi does not apologize for the killing fields of Gujarat 2002? And why , perhaps, he never will )!
By Sanjay Jha
Canceling a brisk walk or a casual hang-out at the neighborhood bookstore or a cold water summer swim to watch Narendra Modi , the lately omnipresent Chief Minister of Gujarat on a March evening on television is not a prospect that frankly gets me euphoric. For sheer ecstasy, I would rather have played football with my irrepressible Dachshund blessed with cosmic energy supply. But in politics, it never hurts to watch your opponents play, particularly when they are practicing . Especially if the fellow is a manipulative guy with brazen, unalloyed ambitions who has masterfully seduced an otherwise inimical and penetrative media with his grandiloquent imagery . So with a curious conflicting mix of exasperation and expectation, I switched on to watch the India Today Enclave’s live relay on the Headlines Today TV channel.
First, let me give the devil the full dues. The Chief Minister has every right to choose his stratagem for success and after three consecutive wins in Gujarat he has acquired his own die-hard ( pun unintended) constituency of passionate acolytes. Modi loves electronic media ( you will observe a conspicuous absence of interviews with the poor-third cousins called print ) and at first, I thought he could almost be seen blushing during the perfunctory adulatory introductions. Modi courts the television industry with the beguiling charms of an insatiable lover who is actually secretly in love with himself. Narcissists look unusually happy mostly, because they believe the direction of the wind has a lot to do with which way is their nose pointing towards. The medium, method and the message was all Modi. The other alliterative term with an M is megalomania which I have actually skipped to avoid an overdose. The problem with this kind of romantic rendezvous with the bearded self however is that one’s vision gets blurred temporarily. It can hurt.
Until Mr Modi was talking about his usual exaggerated development numbers he seemed in fine flow. On social media sites like Twitter, they would bend backwards to trend their 63 year old poster-boy . They did. Modi, of course, thoroughly relishes savaging the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s innate reticent character. Thus, he predictably ridiculed him, taking a pregnant pause to make the point that he experiences impenetrable silence when he meets Mr Singh. It might have drawn guffaws from the audience but Modi forgot that his script looked as cheesy and predictable as a margherita pizza from the Jain Dairy farm. Where was his epochal prescription for the world’s largest democracy which under Singh’s nine years had kept its head above the water, swum ferociously despite anti-currents and actually nosed ahead to the shore despite a Titanic global economic collapse? Modi had none, excepting some silly kindergarten solution about building solar plants at the border. I will let the experts in the Indian Army respond to that panacea.
It was when Javed Ansari, a veteran correspondent with the host media group asked him about his role and responsibility or the lack of it in the Gujarat riots that Modi looked gobsmacked, as if hit by an inebriated bully in a dark alley . Ansari is actually an endearing, gentle guy with the dedication of an old-school journalist. Modi for the umpteenth time ducked and dodged, swerved and sidestepped a question on which everyone wanted an answer. Or at least a pretension of acknowledgement. In a hugely televised event watched by many Indians I presume, this was an opportunity to establish connection. He faltered, failed and flopped. In the process, his rating nose-dived, and despite genuinely wishing to be charitable, I shall have to give him an F grade for being just so boring in pushing his singular agenda of a development spin ( completely overlooking the flaky human and social economic indicators of Gujarat which punctures his whole hypothesis) . And worse, disingenuous and shifty when on slippery ground on the aftermath of Godhra . This is hardly the hallmark of a leader that a great country like India deserves. Something tells me Modi must have been an angry man that night.
Which brings me to the last point of this article; just why doesn’t Modi apologize? Because the truth is that the moment he does so, he assumes moral responsibility for the hapless, innocent 2000 people who died even as Modi snored in his air-conditioned comfort. He cannot pretend anymore that he hadn’t “ looked away” while a bloody carnage ripped Ahmedabad’s blustering soul. Hosni Mubarak, the former President of Egypt was sentenced to life imprisonment for similar nonchalance. And the other pertinent point , can a verbal regret expressed with such visceral reluctance actually ever absolve you of such a brutal massacre? Had Adolf Hitler said sorry for Auschwitz should the world have applauded the apology and pleaded for rehabilitation and resettlement for the Fuhrer ?? If President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka seems rueful should the United Nations tone down the tenor of its resolution on war-crimes ? Mr Modi knows that an apology will trigger a fresh massive inquisition into his palpably dubious role, besides being trashed as synthetic tokenism , and that too eleven years later and one year close to a general election. This stunt will not fly, the time for even a fake fictitious APCO directed apology is over for Modi. The other compelling reason is the oxymoronic “public secret”, Mr Modi knows that his fanatical followers who are usually in a high feverish state of rhapsody will abruptly desert him. For them an apology from the Hindutva hardliner will be akin to blasphemy; then what is left of the Gujarat model??? Isn’t religious bigotry and communal divisiveness an integral part of his design? He knows he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, hence the stubborn status quo.
The fact is that the politics of polarization is a double-edged weapon. In an aspirational young country looking for rapid ascension, perhaps we Indians might get momentarily blinded by our self-serving selfish agendas, by the incandescent glitter of gold, the dazzling SUV’s and calorie burn-outs at shopping malls. But somewhere India’s collective conscience does rise, like at the time of the Delhi gang-rape incident or the Italian marines case. Or as it did at the Ferozeshah Kotla a few days earlier when we pulverized the once formidable Aussies. We were one as a nation , and in MS Dhoni we had a leader. Someone who ironically enough does not indulge in characteristic exhibitionism and boastful talk , but one who had led quietly as his team wreaked havoc. Yes, no apologies were necessary.
Mr Modi needs a reconciliation with himself. Political ambitions are fine, but public morality and sincere honesty and decency precede it. No leader can escape searching scrutiny. And no leader can say , Why don’t you just see my old video tapes for an answer ?? Because the truth is , Mr Modi, you have none.