|'...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'
Narendra Modi to Reuters
New Delhi, July 12: Narendra Modi today projected his “decisiveness” as an imperative in the season of policy paralysis but the message, probably meant for an English-reading audience, was drowned by a “kutte ka bachcha” reference made in the context of the Gujarat riots.
The BJP’s presumptive candidate for Prime Minister made the comments during an interview to Reuters, the international news agency, which uploaded edited excerpts on its website today and said that the replies had been translated from Hindi. The interview was given on June 25 at Modi’s official residence in Gandhinagar.
In the interview, Modi asserted that he was “decisive” but not “authoritarian”, agreed he was a polarising figure but strictly in a political sense and not a communal one, said he was a “human being” besides being a chief minister and defined the “real Modi” as a “nationalist”, a “born Hindu” and a “patriot”.
He saw no contradiction in dovetailing the classic RSS template of “Hindu nationalism” with being “progressive, development-oriented and a workaholic”.
The message that Modi, who mostly spoke in Hindi, wanted to send to an international audience was clear. “If you call yourself a leader, then you have to be decisive. If you’re decisive then you have the chance to be a leader. These are two sides of the same coin… People want him (a leader) to make decisions. Only then they accept the person as a leader. That is a quality, it’s not a negative,” he said.
The emphasis on “decisiveness” as a hallmark of “leadership” is a thought-through BJP strategy to show up the Manmohan Singh government as limp and indecisive. Modi is expected to be projected as a leader with little or no patience to look over his shoulders before clinching a decision.
But the decisiveness was in danger of being seen as recklessness by the evening.
Asked if he regretted what happened in the riots of 2002, Modi said: “India’s Supreme Court is considered a good court today in the world. The Supreme Court created a special investigative team (SIT) and top-most, very bright officers who oversee the SIT. That report came. In that report, I was given a thoroughly clean chit, a thoroughly clean chit.”
Then Reuters’ translated version quoted Modi as saying: “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.”
The word “puppy” drew a firestorm of protests on Twitter and elsewhere amid allegations that a despicable comparison was being made to the riot victims.
Later it emerged that the full sentence was, barring five words, in Hindi and many found the choice of metaphor more offensive and insensitive than the translated “puppy”.
The footage of the interview shows Modi as saying: “Hum agar car chala rahen hain… aur koi drive kar raha hai aur hum peechhe baithe hain, phir bhi ek chhota kutte ka bachcha bhi car ke neeche aa jata hai, toh humein pain feel hota hai ki nahin? Hota hai.”
This evening, Modi tweeted: “In our culture every form of life is valued & worshipped. My original interview with Reuters http://nm4.in/ 138jss0.… People are best judge.”
The tweet did not explain why he had referred to the back seat though Modi was at the decision-maker’s wheel in Gujarat as chief minister when the riots took place.
The BJP, sections of which felt that Modi should have articulated his views in a less controversial manner, said it was “despicable” to say he was drawing any comparisons with a community.
The tone of the other comments in the interview was in line with the idea of propelling Modi on the stump as a “no-nonsense” head. The objective appeared to be to turn apolitical fence-sitters around and reassure his traditional support base.
Some heard in the intemperate remarks an undeclared assessment that Modi’s attempt to cast himself as a moderate had not made much headway among the minorities and that he had decided to focus on those frustrated with the state of affairs, including the economy, and his core constituency.
On the 2002 riots, Modi claimed he had “absolutely” done the “right thing” that year. “Absolutely,” he declared, adding: “However much brainpower the Supreme Being has given us, however much experience I’ve got and whatever I had available in that situation and this is what the SIT had investigated.”
Modi addressed a concern among his party colleagues that he has an authoritarian streak. “If someone was an authoritarian, then would he be able to run a government for so many years? Without a team effort, how can you get success? And that’s why I say Gujarat’s success is not Modi’s success. This is the success of Team Gujarat.”
Modi claimed he never “dreams of becoming anything”, quizzed on who he would emulate if he became Prime Minister, but humility did not appear a forte. “I can say that since 2003, in however many polls have been done, people have selected me as the best CM,” he said, adding that many of those polled were from outside Gujarat.
He said there came a time when he wrote to Aroon Purie, chief editor of the India Today Group, to keep him out of the competition (for best-run states) and “give someone else a shot at it”.
On the perception that he was “too polarising a figure”, Modi said: “If in America, if there was no polarisation between Democrats and Republicans, then how would democracy work? …If everyone moved in one direction, would you call that a democracy?”
Modi restated his definition of secularism as “India first” and said that while seeking votes, he would not divide the electorate into Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. “Religion should not be an instrument in your democratic process,” he said, less than a week after his political aide Amit Shah had emphasised he would like to see a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Modi denied the suggestion that his evolution as a “brand” was the result of a public relations strategy. He claimed that he had never employed a PR agency.
Maintaining that there was a “huge difference” between the West and India, he said neither a PR agency nor the media could “make anything of a person” here.