Why’s Modi silent about Muzaffarnagar?

A section of the media considers Narendra Modi’s speech at a gathering of ex-servicemen in Rewari as statesman-like. They are entitled to their views. My question: does one swallow make a summer?

It doesn’t. Certainly not in Modi’s case when he hasn’t for over a decade and more, betrayed any inclination to lighten his 2002 riots baggage with an apology. Or even a suggestion of it.

Coming back to Rewari, Modi couldn’t have declared war on Pakistan while seeking to show himself as an admirer of the Vajpayee brand of diplomacy, a hallmark of which were the latter’s efforts to mend relations with Pakistan. He rode to Lahore on a bus, suffered Kargil but set up a failed summit in Agra with Musharraf and finally signed with him a joint statement (against terrorism) on January 6, 2004 in Islamabad.

Rewari marked at best a tactical shift by Modi. Or call it an attempt at an image makeover that’ll never be complete or credible without an apology for 2002. That the ugly past continues to haunt him is evident from his silence on the communal strife in Muzaffarnagar where the role of some BJP legislators— including the circulation of a fake video —is a subject of intense debate and scrutiny.

Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind general secretary Mahmood Madani has already flagged the issue. He said it’s for Modi to reach out to the community to dispel the impression that he cared little for Muslim support.

That Modi isn’t planning a visit to the riot affected areas was explicit in the way BJP made light of the PM’s visit to Muzaffarnagar with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. “They are on secular tourism,” said party vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

If the BJP’s PM-aspirant is really seeking to tone down rhetoric and engage in serious public debate, he better watch out against “cocky one liners” by party colleagues.

Not just Modi but the entire Sangh Parivar has a reputation to live down. For instance, the Hindu nationalist tag they often flaunt was on display with a heavy dose of militarism in Rewari.

In his quest for robust numbers in elections-2014, Modi showed the army as being wronged by the elected regime at the Centre. “The problem isn’t at the borders, it’s in Delhi,” he said.

Now that isn’t a Modi first. The BJP often garnishes its nationalist credentials through vigorous identification with the armed forces. Nothing wrong with it except the danger of a politicised military seeking a decisive say in key security and foreign policy issues that are best handled politically.

In his new avatar, Modi must listen to the likes of noted author Amitav Ghosh who’s horrified that Hindu nationalism “transforms faith into politics.” He must realize that Hindus are no monolith but an amalgam of identities — the way India’s a conglomeration of sub-nationalities that wouldn’t subsume into the Sangh’s brand of nationalism.

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