The 2002 Gujarat riots continue to haunt chief minister Narendra Modi, who kicked up a fresh controversy on Friday with his defence of his actions then.
In an interview to Reuters, the man tipped to be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate said, “Someone is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even if a puppy comes under the wheels, will it be painful or not? Of course it will. Chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.”
The backlash came fast and furious. “Thousands were killed in the riots and in the backdrop, the analogy used by Narendra Modi needs to be strongly condemned. There is no place for such a comparison in civilised India,” said Congress’ Ajay Maken.
The Samajwadi Party, CPI(M), CPI and JD(U) accused the Gujarat strongman of comparing Muslims to puppies and demanded an apology for the “humiliating” remark.
An unrepentant Modi tweeted: “In our culture, every form of life is valued and worshipped. People are the best judge.”
The BJP’s spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said it was “despicable” to misinterpret Modi’s remark when he’d just said he would regret any being getting killed.
In the interview, Modi said he’d tried his best to control the riots with “whatever brainpower the supreme being has given us, whatever experience I’ve got and whatever I had available in that situation”. “This is what the SIT (Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team) investigated,” he said, adding that it had given him a “thoroughly clean chit”.
He added that he’d have been frustrated had he been “stealing and got caught”, but that wasn’t the case.
Modi — who won a third consecutive term as CM in December — said India should have a secular leader but that secularism meant an ‘India First’ policy of “justice for all and appeasement for none”. He contended he didn’t believe in dividing voters into “Hindu” and “Muslim”.
Modi also saw no contradiction between his “pro-development” and “Hindu nationalist” images: “I’m a nationalist. Nothing wrong in it. I’m a born Hindu. Nothing wrong in it … So, you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist because I’m a born Hindu. I’m patriotic so nothing wrong in it,” he said. “As far as progressive, development-oriented, workaholic, whatever they say, this is what they say. So there’s no contradiction between the two.”
The CM said it was necessary for a leader to be decisive but that an authoritarian leader couldn’t stay in power for long. He said he appreciated criticism — “the strength of democracy” — but it was different from allegations, which he disapproved of. His logic: criticism takes research and facts, allegations require no hard work.
On being called a polarising figure, he contended that polarisation was the “basic nature” of democracy.
Asked whom he emulated, Modi mentioned BJP veteran Atal Behari Vajpayee – who, incidentally, wanted him removed as Gujarat CM in 2002 — Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi.
Defending Gujarat’s “development”, he said he wouldn’t have been voted to power thrice if it was all hype.
Following the response he received on his interview, Modi tweeted a link to his interview saying 'people are best judge' (sic).