In an interview on Wednesday to news agency ANI, Narendra Modi, the man touted to be India’s next prime minister took some rather straight questions with never before seen confidence. He was at ease, never through the interview did he pause to think, to contemplate before answering questions in what is being seen as one of his most candid interviews in recent times.
He smiled, acknowledged certain points and praised ANI several times through the interview. He asked them to clear certain misconceptions that had been prevalent in the media about him, and to compile news reports about him which would reveal the truth about the inclusive work he had done on development. There was no wiping of sweat or taking sips of water like he last did with well known TV anchor Karan Thapar’s interview. In an uncharacteristically calm response on his decision to refuse to speak to the media and clarify his stand on the 2002 riots, Modi remarked, “Check the press conferences, my media interviews to print and TV journalists. I was not silent, I answered every top journalist in the country from 2002-2007, to every question, but noticed there was “no effort to find or understand the truth”.
As somebody who has had a chance to work in Gujarat in 2002, and cover politics of the state since 2005, and investigate some of the most crucial criminal cases, Narendra Modi left me with more questions than answers. As a citizen of this country who will be casting her vote to usher in an inclusive development oriented government, Modi’s responses were unconvincing. I might not get an audience with the prime ministerial candidate from the principal opposition party of the country anytime soon. So in the interest of those who share my sentiments, I would like to seek some clarifications from Modiji on his recent interviews:
1.) Mr Modi, you have spoken of your tremendous respect for journalists and wanted to thank them for keeping you in check and being accountable. You said you were indebted to the tremendous service that the media had done to the country by praising and critiquing your work. But sir, this takes me to the after-effects my journalist friends and I in Gujarat have faced until recently. In July 2008, the Supreme Court severely reprimanded your government in Gujarat for slapping a sedition charge against senior journalist and sociologist Ashis Nandy. It protected Nandy from being arrested by the Gujarat Police after he moved the Supreme Court apprehending his arrest. Nandy was slapped with criminal charges for allegedly promoting enmity between groups in society through his analytical article on the 2007 Gujarat poll outcome. The Supreme Court remarked, “Gujarat is the state of Mahatma Gandhi and it’s very strange that the state government is unable to take any criticism.”
In 2012, the Gujarat High Court quashed five sedition cases filed against the Times Of India’s Ahmedabad edition in June 2008 by the then police commissioner OP Mathur. The court said there was no case for even defamation. The cases had been filed after a series of investigative reports had exposed Mathur’s alleged dubious background and questioned if Ahmedabad was safe in his hands as police commissioner. The TOI had said your (Modi’s) government, particularly the then minister of state for home Amit Shah, rewarded Mathur for botching up the Sohrabuddin fake encounter probe. The Gujarat home department sought the arrest of the resident editor and the TOI correspondent in June 2008 and carried an internal investigation. However, it was only when the TOI moved the Gujarat High Court to seek anticipatory bail did the High Court direct the government to halt the investigation.
Let me share with you a personal experience of reporting from the state. In June 2010, I was threatened by several BJP leaders (documented in Tehelka), and a bag stashed with money was couriered to my hotel to get me implicated in a criminal case right after I published Amit Shah’s call records in the Tulsi Prajapati fake encounter case which led to his arrest. This, right after I had published investigative articles with internal documents on the involvement of your (Narendra Modi’s) office. Text messages were sent to my phone, suggesting that my location was known.
Mr Modi, you might want to answer, if this was the treatment meted out to journalists in your state, what would be your assurance to journalists should they write against you once you became the prime minister of the country?
You further add, Modiji, that your statements in the media are twisted not by journalists but by news traders. Most of us from the fraternity, Modiji, have felt let down in the past few months by the diktats of some news publication/channel owners who claim to be acting at your behest. These owners have told us point blank that no articles or news stories critiquing you will be published. A prominent news channel funded by businessmen allegedly close to you has also given an ultimatum to its news anchors. I’m assuming these owners are the types you call news traders.
It would be reassuring if you were to send out a message to the news media, for there is an apprehension that your statement on ‘news traders’ could be mistakenly used against those who have been working tirelessly for justice and have been at the receiving end of these business houses
2.) You make a very significant statement, sir, on weeding out the criminal elements from polity and make a case for fast-track courts which would announce their judgements in the span of one year. You also speak on women empowerment when the anchor asks you about a Congress-led allegation on surveillance. In your interview to news agencies and channels, you make no reference on the stalking scandal in which your ex-home minister and now in-charge of Uttar Pradesh Amit Shah is involved.
The allegation, sir, was not a Congress discovered case but that published by senior journalists. The case in concern is about the tapes in which your Home minister Amit Shah is heard talking to one of your top cops GL Singhal to keep a watch on a woman, her movements and give a report of the same to you. Sir, when civilians are subjected to stalking using the state machinery, women in this country feel highly unsafe and worry for their security. We women are also concerned about our safety should you come into power and should Amit Shah be given such blatant power to misuse the state and national machinery like the Intelligence services to stalk civilians, journalists no less, and activists who have been crusading for justice.
Your minister Amit Shah, who was asked by the Election Commission recently, sir, to give an explanation on his comments in Muzaffarnagar, has gone behind bars when his call records and other evidence including footage from a sting operation was submitted to the Supreme Court for allegedly carrying out a fake encounter. We do understand, sir, that you have made your stand clear when you began your election rally in 2007 in Ahmedabad asking the audience what they would want your government to do with the likes of a Sohrbuddin (who was killed in a fake encounter). You have, over a period of time, developed amnesia, sir, when you refuse to talk of Kauserbi, Sohrbuddin’s wife who was raped, sedated and killed by your officers according to the CBI chargesheet.
The Supreme Court has taken cognisance, sir, and accepted the chargesheet not just in this but five other fake encounters. However, the man who was at the helm of affairs as home minister, Amit Shah, at whose behest the chargesheet says the encounters were carried out, is now at the helm of affairs. I understand, sir, that when you talk of fast track courts, Shah will be at the top of the list.
Also, sir, we as citizens of this country were a bit perplexed when you spoke about weeding out criminal machinery and not being vindictive. Because many of your top officers, Kuldip Sharma, Rahul Sharma, and Rajnish Rai, have been refused promotions and have been implicated in cases just because they dared to speak against your government in Gujarat and acted on evidence that came their way.
3.) You, sir, made a very valid point about minority appeasement. This country has seen mainstream political parties like the Congress, the Samajwadi Party (SP), and so on use Muslims, Sikhs and Christians as vote banks. Many fact-finding reports and surveys see the light of the day just before elections. However, sir, at one point in the interview you tell us that you refuse to wear a Muslim skullcap because you believe in practicing your faith and respecting that of others. I do understand, sir, you are a practicing Hindu who believes in culture and Hindu traditions, and you imply, sir, that by wearing the Muslim cap you disrespect your religion and culture. Two stray thoughts that come to my mind as I hear your statement: a.) Your seniors and colleagues in the party Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajnath Singh have attended iftaar parties and worn skullcaps. Where they lesser Hindus?, and b.) Sikhs are not Hindus, sir, Sikhism is an altogether different faith. So, if by wearing a Muslim cap you would resort to appeasement, would it not be appeasement of the Sikhs when you wear a turban?
I have many more questions in my head, sir, but I understand you are busy with your campaign and would not have the time to go through a long list.
PS The moment this article is printed Mr Modi, those who claim to be your followers will make misogynist and communal remarks against me, and they will do so in your name. They will tell me that I will be thrown out of the country post May 16. You follow most of them, sir, and all these Twitter handles follow you. I sincerely hope you will ask them to maintain civility in discourse.