Controversy has followed Narendra Damodardas Modi as relentlessly as the Furies in a Greek tragedy. And Gujarat's powerful chief minister has never been fazed by this. So, it's not likely that the Naroda Patiya verdict will give him any sleepless moments although a minister in his cabinet at the time of the riots in 2002 has been indicted as has a Bajrang Dal leader and several others. Will it let Modi off the hook for the moment? No, Modi-baiters will still bay for the CM's blood on the grounds that all roads lead to him.
Maybe Modi has himself to blame for this. Even his detractors have to concede that he has created a viable model of development for his state. The sartorially suave CM apparently sleeps very little, is a frugal eater, is a man of modest needs and completely incorruptible. He does not suffer fools gladly and is said to have zero tolerance for corruption and sloth. A wonderful set of attributes, don't you think?
In Gujarat today, Modi has become a single-window clearance system for business. When Mamata Banerjee was throwing a hissy fit over the Tata plant in Singur, Modi rolled out the red carpet and threw in a bouquet of sweetners to lure the corporate giant to Gujarat. He has earned accolades galore from the captains of industry even when political allies have shied away from being seen publicly with him. But, this has meant that in a perverse way, Gujarat is Modi and Modi is Gujarat, to borrow from a phrase Devraj Urs used for the late Indira Gandhi. No one believes, whether openly or otherwise, that anything could have happen during Modi's watch without him being in the loop. This is why there are few takers for the argument that he could not have stopped the violence if he had wanted to. This is why few believe that the senior politicians and policemen who were allegedly involved in the crimes acted on their own. In Gujarat, nothing moves without Narendrabhai's stamp of approval, or so it is said.
What has come to be his calling card as far as development goes has also come to be his nemesis when it comes to the taint of the riots. Now you will ask — have other politicians not been at the helm during riots in other parts of India? How come the odium did not stick to them for too long? You are right. But whether it's the Congress or the BJP or other parties, the blame has been diffused. The leader of the party, or state in some cases, did not have the uber status that Modi does.
Modi's supremacy in the state has also meant that he attracts detractors both within his party and outside like bees to honey. You either hate him intensely or you are a starry-eyed admirer. There is simply no room for ambivalence about him. Which explains why the BJP is never too ready to commit to the possibility that he could one day be its prime ministerial candidate. Given the levels of governance he has delivered in Gujarat, given his personal record of probity in public life, he should be the natural choice. But he is not.
Much has to do with Modi's own perception of his infallibility, his ‘my way or the highway' approach. He seems to genuinely have come to believe that he is non-pareil, that as it was said of Kapil Dev, Modi da jawaab nahin. This seems to have made him immune to the fact that as a good politician, he has to win friends and influence people. Imagine what a sea change there would be in attitude towards him if he said mea culpa for the riots. It would earn him a bucketload of brownie points if he were seen as penitent, even in enlightened self-interest. The loony fringes will rail against him, but he is bigger than all of them put together. My point is that he has everything to gain and nothing to lose by saying sorry.
He should take a lesson from the most successful leader the BJP has ever produced, AB Vajpayee. He was a political colossus but so very human with all its frailities. Modi is superman on steroids, he can do no wrong in his own eyes. So Maya Kodnani will go into the slammer but Modi will not be let off the hook one little bit. His detractors will pursue him with the same zeal and fervour they have always shown.
I feel that in the best interests of the party and himself, Modi should stop being so much of a control freak. Let us hear about his other cabinet colleagues, other BJP leaders in the state. He should be generous in crediting them with some of the achievements that the state has notched up. Also, he seriously needs to go on goodwill missions to his own colleagues who may express admiration for him publicly but secretly fear, even dislike him. Modi has shown us that he is an administrator extraordinaire, now he must show that he has the political skills to match. If he can, then we are looking at a winning combination and who knows, Delhi may not be all that far away.