“Hang me if I’m guilty,” Narendra Modi has said in an interview to an Urdu weekly, taking his image-makeover bid to the next level.
A PR exercise ahead of assembly polls in Gujarat later this year and the 2014 Lok Sabha election, was the immediate response of the Congress and social activists.
“In 2004, I gave an interview in which I said, ‘why should I apologise (for 2002 communal riots)?’ If my government has done this, I should be hanged in public,” the chief minister told Nai Duniya on Thursday. “If Modi has committed a crime, hang him. But if I am accused because of political compulsion, I have no answer.”
This isn’t the first time Modi has taken this line to defend himself against allegations that he did nothing to stop the riots that left 1,500 dead. But he’s also been making a calibrated effort to shed the tag of a hardliner and be seen as a leader who has taken his state to great heights in terms of development and economic growth. His claim: Muslims, too, have benefited from Gujarat’s growth.
But many are not impressed. Union law minister Salman Khurshid said, “If an FIR has not been filed against the chief minister for the last 12 years, how do you hold him guilty... who is going to hang him?”
According to rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, the interview with Shahid Siddiqui, a Samajwadi Party leader, was part of a deal Modi struck with the SP, which will field candidates in the state polls to cut into Congress votes.
Teesta Setalvad, who has been assisting riot victims and survivors, said, “Instead of being so melodramatic in an interview that is a clear pre-election PR exercise, all Modi has to do is surrender before the magistrates court hearing the Zakia Jafri case and say he is willing to be prosecuted.”
Inputs from HTC, Ahmedabad and agencies