The writer is a freelance journalist.
No matter how much they loath each other, the Muslims and Gujarat’s Modi can’t seem to get out of the tango they find themselves forever locked in. The passage of time hasn’t done anything to dull the pain and trauma of the 2002 pogrom that wiped out more than 2,000 lives. The fact that the Gujarat satrap is yet to betray any signs of remorse, let alone apologise for the three months of communal orgy of mass murder, rape and destruction unleashed on the community hasn’t helped matters.
The BJP government not just orchestrated the dance of death, senior ministers, accompanied by top police and administration officials, led the mobs in many cases as they went about ‘venting the Hindu sentiments,’ in Modi’s words. Two of those ministers were jailed. The chief architect however remains untouched and unrepentant.
Of late though one descries a growing desperation in the Gujarat leader as he eyes the Delhi throne, cheered on by the fast expanding middle classes and media owned by big business houses he has been pampering all these years in the state.
With the chaos in the Congress-UPA camp deepening by the day and the grand ol’ party marching determinedly, eyes wide shut, into the sunset, Delhi has never appeared more enticing and within striking distance of the former RSS pracharak (propagandist).
The only stumbling block in Modi’s trajectory to Delhi ostensibly is the wretched, hated minority that he and his comrades have spent their life time fighting and trying to destroy. Seems you can curse and abuse Muslims but you can’t ignore them, as Sudheendra Kulkarni, the Leftie who turned saffron, acknowledges in his latest Indian Express piece. After all these years of Muslim-bashing, how Modi and company must hate wooing them like those ‘pseudo-secular’ parties!
Modi’s sadbhavana (harmony) show last year understandably attracted plenty of media attention even if it left his former mentors like Advani squirming in the shadows. Notwithstanding those loyal Bohri caps and beards in attendance, little seemed to change between Muslims and Modi though. The much-debated Nai Duniya interview is therefore seen as a stroke of genius.
An Urdu weekly owned by a politician who often appears on television to speak on Muslim issues. What better platform to offer an apology that wasn’t! Any newspaper/journalist would have killed to get such an interview with one of the most controversial figures offering sound bites like “Hang me if you find me guilty!”
Journalists are suckers for such scoops. Good news isn’t really good news as far as the media is concerned. It revels in notoriety. The more infamous and outrageous the subject the better it is for circulation figures and television rating points.
Journalists like Oriana Fallaci, Sir David Frost and Pakistan’s Altaf Hasan Qureshi built their careers out of interviewing the high and mighty. Fallaci acquired a cult status by interviewing movers and shakers from Arafat to Bhutto and Ayatollah Khomeini to Kissinger, only to ruin it all with her anti-Muslim rants after 9/11. Frost has a successful Hollywood movie, Frost/Nixon, based on his 1977 interview with Richard Nixon.
So it’s understandable if Shahid Siddiqui jumped at the offer of a Modi exclusive, especially since the Gujarat CM rarely grants interviews. As a journalist, one respects Siddiqui’s right to interview Modi or anybody he wants to. Except Modi is not anybody. He has to answer for the massacre of hundreds of innocent people.
This fame isn’t limited to Indian shores. He has been repeatedly denied visas by the United States and European Union despite his friends in high places and powerful Hindutva lobby abroad. He has been spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on his image makeover by hiring some of the top lobbying firms in the US. However, these attempts to sanitise himself haven’t been much successful. Modi, like Macbeth, is haunted by his past. Out, damned spot!
And it’s not just Muslims; the reasonable majority of the nation recoils at the idea of Modi as PM despite the elaborate media-big business circus to paint him as India’s only hope. Within 48 hours of the Nai Duniya interview, Samajwadi Party sacked Siddiqui. Modi’s legacy is that toxic.
Although one would like to give the benefit of doubt to Siddiqui, given his past – hopping from the Congress to BSP to SP in the past three years – and his tendency to use his profession to promote his political career, there’s clearly more to this whole affair than meets the eye.
Indeed, I have a feeling we are missing the big picture by assuming this is Modi’s way of reaching out to the Muslims without alienating his hardcore Hindutva constituency. The crafty tactician that he is, he knows that no amount of spin and ‘hearts-and-minds’ stuff is going to work with Muslims.
This whole “reaching-out-to-Muslims” business is actually aimed at the larger Indian society and establishment that has largely shunned him despite all the hype about the ‘vibrant Gujarat’ and his CEO-style leadership.
Here’s what Sudheendra Kulkarni argues in Indian Express: “Such is the power of honesty, clarity, candour, courage and transparency (yeah right!) behind Modi’s answers to Siddiqui’s searching questions, that the interview has succeeded in making both Muslims and also his many Hindu critics think about him with an open and unprejudiced mind.”
Advani’s former aide clearly knows which way the wind is blowing in the BJP as he pitches for the Gujarat satrap: “The dynastic Congress will shiver and sink if the Modi-Muslim relationship gets recast in this manner, with both sides learning the lessons taught by that wise teacher – democracy.” Dream on, pal!
Remember, Modi for all his supposed candour and courage still hasn’t apologised! In the four-page Nai Duniya interview there’s not a single word that can be stretched and spun as admission of guilt. To repeated suggestions urging him to “apologise,” he has one defiant answer: “Hang me if you can!” In other words, you can’t!
If this isn’t an open defiance of Indian democracy, rule of law and, above all, judiciary, what is? Having destroyed all evidence and muscled in the witnesses and whistleblowers over the past 10 years, he thinks he can get away with murder. So don’t count on that apology.
In any case, Muslims need no apology from Modi or anyone else. What they need is justice and fair play. Thanks to the Supreme Court intervention and persistent efforts of gutsy individuals like Teesta Setalvad and Mukul Sinha, many of those involved in the 2002 pogrom have been for the first time in India’s history convicted. However, the real architects of the genocide remain untouched. Thousands of families driven from their villages and towns in 2002 still can’t return and are languishing in camps in awful conditions. Hundreds of Muslim youths are rotting away in Gujarat’s prisons as ‘terrorists.’
Unless these facts on the ground change, how can anyone expect Muslims to forgive and forget and move on? Besides, it’s not just Modi. The real problem is the Hindutva worldview which sees Muslims – and other minorities – as outsiders and usurpers. It’s this mindset that was responsible for the Gujarat 2002. The BJP may have softened its xenophobic rhetoric in recent years thanks to the exigencies of coalition politics. Its agenda however remains unchanged.