This is Narendra Modi’s first interview in several years. We are uploading the audio with permission from Nai Duniya owner-editor and Samajwadi Party leader Shahid Siddiqui. The English transcription and Shahid Siddiqui’s own description of how the interview came about and what he makes of Modi’s responses will follow later.
The decision to grant the interview to Siddiqui may seem piquant given Modi’s record and the charges against him, but it makes sense in light of the current political scenario. More than the Gujarat state elections, which are coming up later this year, it is aimed at the 2014 elections. The greatest impediment in Modi’s ambition of being Prime Minister is the clear perception of his and his state machinery’s role in the 2002 killings of Muslims in Gujarat. This not only alienates liberal opinion, which would hardly matter to Modi, it also ensures that many alliance partners of the BJP, most importantly Nitish Kumar in Bihar, would not consider being part of a coalition led by Modi. There is also the danger of an anti-BJP consolidation of Muslim votes, which whether the community may so want or not, will benefit the Congress.
Given this background, it is interesting to see Modi’s handling of some of the issues raised by Siddiqui in the interview. Through the interview, Modi attempts to don a mask of reasonableness, but when the mask does slip, what it reveals is not pleasant, as is the case when he accuses Siddiqui of salivating at the thought of the Muslims of the subcontinent all coming together to create tension in India.
Answering questions on the massacre of Muslims in the state in 2002, his replies are on expected grounds, and similar arguments have been offered by his supporters. But in the recent past this is the first time that Modi has spoken on these issues. What remains evident is that even today Modi has no remorse for what happened while he was in charge of the state. At the time, KPS Gill, who took over as security advisor after the violence, referred to the ‘Kalinga effect’, where a remorseful Emperor Ashok became an emissary of peace seeing the destruction caused by war, and said, “I do not see this happening here. Ordinarily, this happens in the society within 10 days. Even two-and-a-half months later, this is yet to begin (here). Generally, there is a sense of repentance after violence. Unfortunately, I do not find that here.” Ten years later, that still remains true, instead Modi feels he has been wronged by the ‘baseless’ propaganda against him for not acting effectively at the time.
Claiming that he strongly objects to any statement to the effect that what happened in 1984 in Delhi can be used to absolve events elsewhere, he promptly goes on to compare and contrast his response with what happened in Delhi under the Congress in 1984. While correctly indicting the Congress for what happened then (it is difficult for anyone to say a word in the Congress’ defence for the murder carried out by its cadres), he uses this to try and whitewash his own failings.
Some of his replies are clearly evasive, others are a brazen denial of the truth. All of course refer to himself in the third person. While defending the decision to transport the bodies of those who died in Godhra to Ahmedabad, he evades the crucial issue of why curfew was imposed only after funeral processions had wound their way through town, stoking tension. As for the selective and targeted killing of Muslims and the burning and loot of Muslim property, Modi goes on to deny that such a thing ever happened. Maybe he should once again revisit what happened at the Gulbarg society or for that matter in numerous other incidents in the city and the state. But then it is not as if he does not know this.
Expectedly, he repeatedly uses the SIT report prepared under directions of the Supreme Court in his defence. The tone and tenor of the report is directed towards minimising the impact of what happened, at times going beyond the facts to offer Modi a clean chit. This is now being used by Modi with great skill to make his case.
It is only towards the end of the interview that the pretension drops. Claiming that secularism is intrinsic to this country, he says at one time, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan were also part of this secular ethos but when the ‘jamat’ (community) to whom secularism comes naturally declined in numbers, these areas lost their tradition of secularism. In India, there is no such fear because the jamat that believes in secularism is well entrenched. The implications need not be spelt out, but it is clear from what follows when he blatantly tells Siddqui, “You people find your mouth watering today, it is because the combined number of Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan can come together, and with the help of Indian Muslims, create tension in India. This is motive for the new movement for Akhand Bharat in Pakistan.”