Millennium Post

Seeking catharsis

Gujarat chief minister Narendrabhai Modi would be the best choice to deliver a lecture to journalism students on the topic, ‘how to remain in news’. His recent interview to Samajwadi Party leader, since expelled, Shahid Siddiqui-owned Urdu weekly Nai Duniya has managed to hog the requisite limelight as its has been reported extensively in the English print media, which is ordinarily considered the whetstone to test the seriousness of a particular news.

The interview to Siddiqui is a well thought attempt on part of Modi to reach out for reconciliation with the minorities especially in the Hindi heartland.
Nai Duniya
is the most widely circulated Urdu periodical with close to a pan-India presence. Two other prominent publications coming out from their family stable are – Mashriq-e-Khawatin, which is a women’s magazine and Chaharang, which is similar to Reader’s Digest both in character and content.

The question being asked among the Muslim intellectuals is – why is Modi seeking reconciliation when he managed to win two continuous assembly polls in Gujarat on the communal agenda, by default the second time thanks to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ke saudagar’ speech. He is obviously aiming at a wider canvas. In the era of coalition politics, Modi realises, he cannot allow his further isolation.

This is the second time in two years that Modi has made an attempt to reach out to the minorities. Last year in September he had gone on a three-day fast, to use Modi’s own words, ‘to pray to the almighty to give him strength so that he does not develop or retain any ill-feelings or bitterness towards those who defamed Gujarat or him by making false allegations.’

This year, in the interview to Nai Duniya, Modi has said, ‘There is no question of apologising [for Gujarat riots] because if I have committed this crime, then I should not be forgiven, I should be hanged. And I should be hanged in such a way that people should learn a lesson for 100 years that nothing like this should happen.’

Modi’s offer to kiss the noose has expectedly generated a fresh round of controversy as his mere words are unlikely to mollify the community, which considers him personally responsible for the Gujarat riots of 2002. This predicament is well comprehended by Modi, who is working overtime to rid himself of his ‘brutal’ image.

Last year in the letter issued during his fast in Ahmedabad, Modi had mentioned that despite taking giant strides economically, Gujarat was not been able to achieve harmony. This admission was extra-ordinary as a politician would ordinarily flaunt law and order statistics, claiming that there have been no communal riots in the State since 2003. Though he did not say it directly, he expressed his desire then also for wider acceptability by underlining his yearn for ‘unity, harmony and brotherhood.’

Narendra Modi is a politician and he is entitled to play politics. He is entitled to have his ambition and also look for opportunities to create a wider base of acceptability. Towards that end he wants to change the agenda for Gujarat polls from communalism to inclusive development, reflected in his slogan — Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. But would this attempt be able to erase communalism from the agenda of politics in Gujarat? Difficult, though communalism as the sole political agenda doesn’t do any good to Modi’s rivals either.

Modi has cut out a difficult task for himself by seeking harmony with the Muslim electorate. In course of the interview to
Nai Duniya,
the Gujarat CM was asked, ‘Why don’t you apologise as Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh apologised, even Rajiv Gandhi had apologised to the nation [for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots]. So why don’t you apologise to the nation? Don’t apologise to Muslims, apologise to the nation.’

Probably Narendra Modi also knows that seeking apology is not going to get him a quick ‘pardon’ which did not happen even in the case of Congress. It took quarter of a century before the Sikhs of Delhi voted for a Congress candidate from the West Delhi seat during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. During the 1999 polls from the same seat even Dr Manmohan Singh tasted defeat. More than the apologies, it took a change of generation and a consistent attempt by Sheila Dikshit government to mollify Sikhs and assuage their anger.

Modi has made the attempt to reach out to the Muslim electorate. But will mere pompous declarations yield results? The Congress, all these years, could not disown leaders accused of perpetrating the 1984 pogrom. Will Modi show the courage to get the perpetrators of 2002 riots convicted and hanged?

Narendra Modi’s predicament is similar to that of Karna in the Mahabharat. Karna, the philanthropist brother of the Pandavas fought on the side of the Kauravas. After death, Karna reached Pitralok and was returned the charity he had done on earth a thousand-fold. When he asked for food and water, he was served with gold and silver. This made Karna ask Yama, the ruler of Pitralok, why his soul was made to go hungry and thirsty when he had done so much charity during his lifetime.

Yama told him that he was being given what he donated in his lifetime. Since he never donated food and water, which sustains life, he was going hungry in heaven. Similarly Modi too finds himself in a Catch-22 position, knowing full well that the prosperity and development of the state alone will not suffice for his personal catharsis.

Sidharth Mishra is president, Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post.
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