Gujarat state chief minister, Narendra Modi takes blessings from the statue of Swami Vivekanand as he kicks off his month-long Vivekanand Yuva Vikas Yatra at Becharaji town, some 110 kms from Ahmedabad. AFP/Sam Panthaky
Dear Mr Modi,
You must be happy--in fact-- elated over the UK government's change in stance. You are celebrating no doubt, for after an entire decade the UK has ended its diplomatic isolation of you and promised to engage with you and Gujarat. The timing of the announcement--comes as it does in the middle of the election campaign--is something you will work to your advantage. You have an uncanny knack of doing that and it wasn't surprising to see the UK government's press release go up on your website narendramodi.in, within seconds of it being released.
Publicity, image-enhancement, propaganda are a fine art and you could give a tip or two to the best PR firms in the country. They might even be using you as a case study in their board rooms but Narendra bhai, why do you stop short of image-enhancement when it comes to the 2002 riots, to the many Muslims who are also Gujaratis. You are obssessed about the well-being of six crore gujaratis, you say often but even at the three day sadbhavna that you organized in Ahmedabad, you refused--appeared repulsed in fact--the skull cap offered to you on stage in front of zillions of live cameras.
You went as far as to fast for three days in the name of sadbhavna but not once did you say you were sorry that so many innocents were slaughtered in your state. The recent Naroda Patiya judgement detailed the role of politicians, including that of Mayaben Kodnani, a junior minister in your government, but all you did--through your propagandists--was to distance yourself from the judgement and the indictment.
Aaj khush to bahut honge aap. If UK has changed its mind; may be the US will too and reverse its decision of not honouring you with a visa. And then, may be that will pave the way for your ride to New Delhi. But Narendra bhai, all the development that you have showcased, has not reduced the taint. You say there is no case against you in any court of law. You say also, that Gujarat has been peaceful for the last ten years and yes, you say: hang me if I am guilty. But 2002 is not just about legality. It has a lot to do with your own political ambition and with perception.
Not once in the last many years, has the BJP given a single seat to a Muslim candidate. In the entire month that you toured the state on your rath - and you travelled through many areas that were wracked by violence in 2002--not once did you bring up the riots or the Naroda judgement. I'm reasonably sure it was deliberate, but then I write this open letter--on behalf of many--and we urge you to innovate and to be brave. Open your heart and apologise. Embrace each one of the six crore Gujaratis. Don't make the Muslims the centerpiece of your political strategy. Polarizing the state will only give you yet another handsome win in the state and it will keep you there; a prisoner of your own politics.
Learn from the UK. They've ended the diplomatic isolation. Ultimately, you will have to end your own isolation. And there are no short cuts, for that, I'm afraid.
PS: Nitish Kumar has not paid me to write this letter.
Regards, Harinder Ben
The writer is a senior journalist with the Hindustan Times.The views expressed are personal.