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
apologize for the three months of communal orgy of mass murder,
rape and destruction unleashed on the community hasn’t helped
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
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 Expresspiece. 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 taxpayer’s money on his image
makeover by hiring some of the top lobbying firms in the US.
However, these attempts to sanitize himself haven’t been much
successful. Modi, like Macbeth, is haunted by his past. Out,
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 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, candor, 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
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 candor and courage still
hasn’t apologized! In the 4-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 “apologize,” he has
one defiant answer: “Hang me if you can!” In other words, you
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
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
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published writer and columnist.
The above article first appeared in
Arab News on August 10, 2012.
him at firstname.lastname@example.org