With the appointment of Narendra Modi as BJP’s PM candidate, the election season has officially started. One issue has dominated the airspace in terms of Mr Modi’s candidacy—the so-called non-secular nature of Mr Modi. The media, print and TV, Congress and its allies, Nitish Kumar and his band of secularists, civil society, assistant professors at the University of Pennsylvania, the list is long. Their contention—that Modi is communal as proved by the fact that the bloody Hindu-Muslim Godhra, Gujarat riots of 2002 took place under his stewardship and that he has not apologised for the same. These are incontrovertible facts—the riots occurred six months after he became chief minister in 2002, and despite pressures, he hasn’t apologised in the manner that civil society and the liberal intelligentsia wants him to apologise.
This lack of a communicable apology was noticed by everyone at the time of Modi’s ill-fated remark that he feels sorry for any death, even the death of a puppy, run over by a car in which he is sitting in the back. At best, a clumsy apology. It may be the case that Modi, given his vernacular Gujarati background, is somewhat uncomfortable in the English-speaking world. It may be the case that Modi does not fully appreciate the concept games that the smaller but far more powerful westernised intellectuals play in India. It may be the case that Modi thinks that he has already apologised for Godhra 2002, and did so as far back as 2004.
In his Walk the Talk interview with Shekhar Gupta, just before the May 2004 general elections, Mr Modi stated the following: “That’s why I said in the (Gujarat) Assembly that if anybody has to be punished for what happened in Gujarat, it should be me … I am also a human deep-down, but just because one incident happened during my governance, I know that I will have to carry the burden forever … it (Gujarat riots) took place when I was in power so I can’t detach myself from it.” (emphasis added, reproduced in The Indian Express, September 17, 2013).
There are many shades of Modi admitting responsibility, and guilt (burden) and even asking for punishment in the above quotes. This was in 2004. The puppy remark came now, nine years later. But led by the Congress party, the civil media society (CCMS) is not satisfied. What they want is a Manmohan Singh-style apology for