With his puppy analogy, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has trivialised the Godhra tragedy and infuriated the victims who are still fighting for justice.

It was the biggest anti-climax of the decade… or rather 12 years. Particularly after the entire Sangh Parivar, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), gave its blessings to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to lead the party’s election campaign in the coming Lok Sabha polls, and by inference, made him its prime ministerial candidate. Outside the large pool of Modi’s diehard fans, the rest of India was waiting for the controversial Gujarat Chief Minister to break his silence on what his take was on the 2002 pogrom in the State he presided over.

For one thing, Modi does not give interviews, in print or on electronic media. But the few times he has allowed journalists to accompany him during election campaigns — a necessary evil — he has simply frozen or turned away when asked about the 2002 riots. Much earlier, he had ended interviews abruptly and walked away when posed this question.

So, finally, when he broke his silence on this crucial subject last week in an interview to Reuters, what he had to say came as such a huge disappointment. The Congress andparties such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) have slammed his “puppy” reference and deliberately twisted it to say he meant that Muslims were worse than dogs. Or, so says SP’s Kamal Farooqi. On the other hand, BJP leaders such as Rajiv Pratap Rudy have rushed to endorse his comment, taking sycophancy to a new high by claiming that Modi’s puppy remark reveals his “childlike heart”, filled with “sheer compassion”.

Before analysing Modi’s comment, here is what he actually said, and the context. When asked if he regretted what happened in 2002, he first said that the report of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) had given him a “thoroughly clean chit. 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.”

On whether his government should have responded differently, Modi said: “Up till now, we feel that we used our full strength to set out to do the right thing.” When asked if he thought he had done the right thing, he responded: “Absolutely.”

First, the puppy analogy. What an absolutely inane response and a stupid example to give for a blood-curdling event where people were chopped, hacked or burnt to death, and women gang-raped in a systematic manner. And in rambling, grammatically incorrect language, too.

We journalists are blamed for all kinds of things, but many of us are generous enough to clean up the grammar in our copy, where politicians, corporate honchos or senior bureaucrats are interviewed.

Well, Reuters decided, for whatever reason, to keep the original quotes (such as “if we are a driver”) intact.

Twitter takes over

But even if we forget the language and the grammar (hateful to begin with, remember being tortured by your Wren & Martin?), for a man like Modi, who weighs his words carefully, to give such an example when referring to a mammoth tragedy, is absurd. A puppy coming under a car? Seriously?

Would he have become less of a man, or his amazing-talent-for-development taken a beating had he said that it pained him that under his watch 2000 human beings had been killed? Was that too much to expect?

Small wonder then, that apart from our politicians who found this comment either “compassionate”, insulting or bristling with hate, Twitterdom had fun going to town over it! Interestingly, one of the Reuters journalists, Sruthi Tottipati (@GoSruthi), who did the interview tweeted on Saturday: “Modi’s remarks poorly contextualised in today’s papers & TV debates last night.”

RSS leader Ram Madhav latched on and repeated her tweet with this prelude: “Journo who did d interview had this to say.” Significantly, she later deleted her tweet, and this time the anti-Modi side called it “Shameful… journo who interviewed NaMo deleted her tweet”, and attached a screenshot of the tweet.

It was always expected that Modi would not express remorse or regret for what happened, because, to do that, from his point of view, would be to admit — forget complicity — a degree of incompetence or laxity, in nipping the post-Godhra carnage in the bud.

Had that been done by a firm and effective administration, hundreds of innocent lives would have been saved and their homes and belongings spared. But, with his puppy analogy, Modi has trivialised the whole tragedy and surely infuriated the victims who are still fighting for justice and whose lives will never be the same.

This is even more puzzling, given the manner in which he handled the rest of the interview, without giving anything away. Such as the question on the leader he would emulate if he became PM.

The answer was his usual take on how he dreams of doing things and does not aspire for titles, and the politically correct stance of “if I like something about Sardar Patel, then I can implement that in my state. If I like something about Gandhiji, then I can implement that.”

An opportunity missed

So much was riding on Modi breaking his silence over what he feels deep within him about the 2002 riots, or what he could have done differently to prevent such a huge blot on his tenure as chief minister. Had he spoken from the heart (childlike or not!), and earnestly too, he would have had the opportunity to pull over to his side lakhs of fence sitters who are fed up of the deep morass into which the Congress-led UPA, particularly UPA-II, has taken the country.

These people know very well that to pull India and Indians out of our present plight — from decaying cities, crumbling infrastructure, growing unemployment and burden of spiralling essential commodity prices — Modi, or an NDA government, has no magic wand. But maybe, just maybe, a change in government and leadership would be the first step in the steep climb towards better times.

Compared to what he said about the 2002 riots in this interview, I prefer his one-liner to the same question I asked him in a recent interaction, which was alas, off the record. Why do our leaders — be they politicians like Modi or corporate icons like Ratan Tata — prefer only foreign publications for crucial interviews? While a colleague and I who met him, over a long 90 minutes, promised not to publish what he said, I can reveal his one sentence response on the same subject. When he sounded genuinely frustrated at his detractors pulling out the 2002 card against whatever good or positive he did, I asked him why he didn’t come clean on 2002 and address the issue, for once and for all.

Kuch fayda nahi (There is absolutely no use)”, he said, pensive, almost dejected, and shaking his head.

And then comes the puppy answer! Surely, you could have done better Mr Modi!

Responses to rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 15, 2013)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.