Narendra Modi in an image makeover mode, a changed persona, a ruler committed to the raj dharma Atal Bihari Vajpayee invoked without response in the aftermath of the 2002 post-Godhra carnage.
Even the worst critics of the Gujarat Chief Minister have noticed the political maturity, the care and the composure with which he’s handling the tragic consequences of a nearly carpet-bombed Ahmedabad.
No, it isn’t the fire-spitting, vengeful pracharak of yore. On display is a new Modi, standing by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he read out from a statement reiterating India’s resolve to fight terror. The image drove home the importance of a collective national response to forces hell bent on tearing apart the tenuous social fabric of Gujarat.
Cutting cross the state’s infamous ideological and communal divide, opinion leaders gave Modi the credit for preventing a repeat of 2002. The CM’s first response to the serial blasts was an appeal for peace free of any finger pointing. What a departure this from his justification of the post-Godhra retaliatory violence based on Newton’s law of action and reaction.
“Modi conducted himself with restraint this time,” conceded Prof. Prakash Shah, a long-time Modi critic and convener of the Movement for Secular Democracy. “But we wouldn’t have seen this day had he shown the same restraint six years ago,” he argued, linking the Chief Minister’s benign avtaar to his national ambitions: “He’s preparing for a larger role. He sees himself as future Prime Minister.”
Even Dr Hanif Lakdawala who runs a health and sanitation NGO was unwilling to give the CM the benefit of doubt. He attributed Modi’s conduct to his larger political objective that cannot be realised without being acceptable to the BJP-led NDA’s secular allies as also the international community.
Predilections apart, Modi has in recent years distanced himself from the VHP-Bajrang Dal mobsters who ran amok in 2002. His governance record vindicated by the 2007 poll victory has since fetched him a political weight unmatched by his BJP peers.
The state bureaucracy swears by Modi’s administrative acumen in bringing in steady investments, raising girls’ enrolment in schools and controlling rampant female foeticide in the state.
MOUs worth Rs 6,66,000 crore investments have been signed during Modi’s tenure, said IAS officer Bhagyesh Jha, vice-chairman of Industrial Extension Bureau. “The blasts wouldn’t impact future investments,” says Sunil Parekh, a financial analyst. By preventing riots, Modi has reassured investors that Gujarat isn’t a volatile destination.
But Mukul Sinha of Jan Sangharsh Manch that represented riot survivors disagreed that the Modi administration feared the NGOs or statutory bodies. He somewhat uncharitably concluded that the CM cared little for the NGOs. “Riots did not occur because the Hindu community is disillusioned and does not respond to provocations.”