What a transformation after a sharp rap on the knuckles!
'I am not against Islam,' says Narendra Modi now. 'Any Hindu who is against Islam is not a true Hindu. Whatever happened at Godhra and thereafter was wrong. This sort of happening is not good for any society, and I have been saying this in all fora.'
Is he speaking the truth or is he being wise after the event? A check with the web sites or past copies of newspapers and magazines is unlikely to reveal any such show of contrition on his part earlier. Instead, the Gujarat chief minister is remembered for his singular lack of concern and compassion for the victims of the riots both during and after the outbreak.
Nothing showed his starkly unsympathetic attitude towards those who had somehow managed to escape from the murderous hordes than his description of the rehabilitation centres as child-producing factories.
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Any number of reputed institutions, starting from the Supreme Court, has noted Modi's indifference. Perhaps the most scathing observation was from the apex court when it likened the rulers of Gujarat during the tragedy to 'modern day Neros' who fiddled while the state burnt. And the reason for their unconcern is simple: they didn't believe that it was a tragedy at all.
As much is evident from Modi's insolent letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam in the context of the Supreme Court's decision to intervene in Gujarat, when he wanted to know whether all the riot cases of the past few decades will be similarly reopened.
He also let it be known that he resented Gujarat being singled out for investigation by the judiciary and the Central Bureau of Investigation when only 'some stray incidents' had taken place. Anyone who believes that an outbreak which lasted for two months, claiming 2,000 lives, is tantamount to 'some stray incidents' evidently has a different yardstick for judging such a tragedy.
It is not difficult to understand why Modi's attitude was less than humane. He was held up as a hero by the hardliners in the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar at the time, who believed that they had at last found a man who embodied their deepest anti-minority convictions since he did not hesitate to show the Muslims their place. The riots were openly hailed as an 'awakening' of the Hindus by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, whose stormtroopers have since been identified by the police for being associated with some of the incidents.
But that was then. Now the scene is different. The humiliating snubs meted out to him by Washington and London -- the first time that an Indian chief minister has been treated so shabbily by foreign governments -- has made the 'hero of hatred', as the magazine India Today once called him, realise that an icon of the Hindutva hawks can be regarded as a diabolical figure by the rest of the world.
As long as he was being pilloried by the 'pseudo-secularists' in India, Modi was riding high. In fact, he could wear such criticism as a badge of honour, for the more the so-called minority-appeasing secularists attacked him, the higher his stocks rose in the eyes of the saffron hardliners, steeped in the anti-Muslim and anti-Christian philosophy of the RSS.
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Though undoubtedly uneasy about the course of the investigations launched by the Supreme Court into his acts of omission and commission during the riots, Modi may not have minded being regarded as a villain by the judiciary or the National Human Rights Commission. The Hindutva brigade has had little time for these institutions, as is evident from its stand that the courts have no role to play in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute since it is a matter of faith for Hindus.
It also probably believes that the NHRC is run by 'pseudo-secularists.' Modi was dismissive of the Election Commission as well, and hinted at a conspiracy against him by the two Christians, Sonia Gandhi and theN chief election commissioner, James Michael Lyngdoh, who was in office when the Gujarat election was held. So, where the saffron lobby was concerned, as long as Modi's anti-minority stance won votes for the BJP, it was satisfied.
After the rebuff by the US and Britain, however, the BJP and even the Parivar may have realised that it is one thing to be regarded as a pariah by a section within the country, but quite another to become a pariah at the international level. For all the claims about the US and British action being an attack on the pride of Gujarat, the proud people of the state will know that even if they regard the slur on Modi as unwarranted, they cannot evade the calumny associated with his name.
It is now well established that human rights has become a big thing in today's world. Even the sole superpower has become aware that it has been put on the back foot by the reports of torture of suspected Islamic fundamentalists emanating from the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons. A party like the BJP, therefore, which has ambitions of ruling India, cannot afford to extol Modi after the castigations he has faced at home and now the snubs from two major countries.
For Gujaratis, the dilemma is all the more acute, for while their state is known for its eagerness to grab business opportunities, Modi's presence at the helm of the government is obviously a huge disadvantage. And yet, the BJP cannot easily dump him. To do so will mean that the party has virtually accepted the criticism levelled against him.
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Besides, since the saffron hardliners led by the RSS and the VHP still admire him, ditching Modi will strengthen the hawkish group within the BJP and the Parivar who believe the BJP has become too soft because of its stint in power at the Centre with the 'secular' allies of the NDA, and that there is a need for another, more aggressive pro-Hindu party. So, for the BJP, its one-time hero seems to have become an albatross round its neck.