Identifying himself as a Hindu nationalist, Gujarat chief minister and BJP prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi sparked off a major political controversy on Friday by using a puppy-analogy to explain how the 2002 riots in his state saddened him. On being asked if he regretted what happened under his watch 11 years ago, Modi replied that he had been given a “thoroughly clean chit” by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court.
He said: “Another thing, any person if we are driving a car, we are a driver, and someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course, it is. If I’m a chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.”
Coming from Modi, it was a significant statement. The chief minister made it clear that he was not a politician who would soften his stance and say he was sorry.
He has never said sorry for 2002 and there was no change from that position. All he did was to say that he was saddened by the incident. He even played down the seriousness of the events of 2002 by comparing it with a puppy coming under a car.
The brief interview was used by Modi to make a careful political construct that he is a hardcore Hindu leader. No, he did not repeat the Ayodhya temple agenda.
He had left that task in the hands of the now UP-in-charge of the party and his close aide, Amit Shah.
On secularism he said: “For me, my secularism is India first. I say the philosophy of my party is ‘Justice to all. Appeasement to none’. This is our secularism.” He made it explicit that he was not going to lose his polarised Hindu vote by sounding placatory towards the Muslims.
When asked how he would persuade minorities, including Muslims, to vote for him, he replied: “First thing to Hindustan’s citizens, to voters Hindus and Muslims, I’m not in favour of dividing. I’m not in favour of dividing Hindus and Sikhs. I’m not in favour of dividing Hindus and Christians. All the citizens, all the voters are my countrymen... Religion should not be an instrument in your democratic process.”
He underlined the fact that he was a Hindu nationalist. He offered the explanation that having been born a Hindu and being a patriot, he would always end up being a Hindu nationalist. He said: “I’m nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I’m a born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So, I’m patriotic, so nothing is wrong in it. As far as progressive, development-oriented, workaholic, whatever they say, that it what they are saying. So there’s no contradiction between the two. It’s one and the same image.”
There was not much politically surprising about what Modi said. That he identified himself as a Hindu nationalist with eight months left for the polls is significant. That he stood firm on his ground on secularism or on 2002 suggests that he would continue to play hardline Hindutva politics and mix it with his growing focus on development.
Non-BJP politicians pounced upon Modi for using the puppy analogy. SP leader Kamal Farooqui said: “It is a very sad, very humiliating and very disturbing statement. What does he think that Muslims are worse than puppies. He should apologise. Said CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat: “The expression of regret just doesn’t come to Modi. There is something fundamentally wrong with what he is saying.”
Shivanand Tewari of the JD(U) said: “Modi should be subjected to a psycho-analysis”. He said that it would be a “very dangerous situation if such a person becomes the prime minister of the country.” Salman Khurshid, external affairs minister, commented, “Modi has a poor impression of the Indian people, to be a Hindu nationalist is an oxymoron.”