Sunday 23 February 2014

This is no time for silence, Mr Modi (Sunday Guardian)

MD Nalapat, 23 February 2014.
here are those politicians who dislike any individual who tells them unpleasant truths to their face. Used as they are to courtiers spewing praise with the frequency of spit around a "paan" shop, our politicians early in their stint in powerful positions believe in their own excellence and infallibility, until brought to earth by electoral disaster. Let it be admitted that this columnist is not in the "friends" list of Narendra Modi, unlike others who know the man closely. However, during the few occasions when he has met first the BJP party functionary and later the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the BJP's Prime Ministerial nominee has ever been friendly and receptive, even when views have been presented to him with which he clearly disagreed. Contrary to the widely-spread view of Modi as imperious and more than a trifle arrogant, he has always seemed relaxed and marked by sudden flashes, not of anger, but of humour, which is why a meeting with Modi has always been an experience to remember.
In particular, Narendra Modi has never hesitated to speak out his mind on issues, even when such views have been controversial. Most politicians say things that are entirely different from their actual views, in the belief that such dissimulation will help them garner votes. Take the way in which several have rushed to comment on the Godhra train burning of 2002, when a frenzy seemed to settle on Gujarat, resulting in the deaths of several dozen Hindus and many more that number of Muslims. Whole families joined in the mayhem, whether they were Congress or BJP or neither, but this has been ignored in a narrative that places the entire blame on a single individual.
Narendra Modi has thus far refused to accept the advice of several detractors and more than a handful of friends that he "apologise" for the post-Godhra riots. For to do so would be to accept culpability in the killings that took place, and it has been Modi's view that no Chief Minister could have prevented the violence that followed television images of the victims of the train burning being taken to their cremation. This columnist has covered riots before, getting stabbed in one and escaping an attack in a second, and can testify to the fact that when a mob goes crazy, it becomes a malign force of nature impervious to sanity and often to the police. So it was with the 2002 riots, and which is why there has been no apology from Narendra Modi, nor is there likely to be, despite the pointing out of the "alliance advantage" of such a Mea Culpa. Narendra Modi is what he is, and as this columnist has said before, is packaged in cellophane rather than in an opaque material. Like him or loathe him, you know what to expect from the man.
Which is why it is a surprise that thus far, Narendra Modi has been silent on the action of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa in seeking to free Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, three of those who succeeded in killing Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur in 1991. Since confessionals are the vogue in these more transparent times, let it be admitted that this columnist has a soft corner for the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. She faced terrible obstacles in her youth and early adulthood in a society marked by extreme patriarchy, and has done more for the girl child than any other politician in power. However, one wishes that she had not listened to the counsel of those who urged her to release Rajiv Gandhi's killers, for by doing so she has destroyed the faith of many who believed that she was strong on national security. Jayalalithaa may get a few more "CM votes" in her state because of the attempted release, but she has lost a much larger number of "PM votes" across the entire country by this step.
But what of Narendra Modi, one of whose electoral assets is that he is seen as being strong on national security? Thus far, there seems to be silence from him on Jayalalithaa's attempted release of the three LTTE men from prison. Hopefully, Narendra Modi will not go by the advice of friends in Delhi about what and when to say, and when to keep silent, for these are the very worthies who lost 2004 and 2009 for the BJP and who are on course to keep the BJP tally near 175 in May if they run the party campaign. When steps get taken that negatively impact national security, whether these be by friend or foe, it is expected of Narendra Modi that he will speak out, thereby ensuring that Modi remain what has brought him so very far, Modi.

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