New Delhi, July 13: “God”, groaned the recent young lateral entrant into the BJP, “my feedback has been awful”.
The allusion was to Narendra Modi’s “kutte ka bachcha” remark in his Reuters interview that has triggered allegations that a despicable comparison was being made to the 2002 riot victims.
Asked if he regretted what had happened in 2002, Modi was quoted as answering (in Reuters’ English translation of his largely Hindi remarks) that if “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 the “puppy” analogy set off a firestorm of protests on Twitter and elsewhere, some of his other remarks too drew criticism.
Modi said he had “absolutely” done the right thing in 2002 and declared himself a “nationalist”, a “born Hindu” and a “patriot”.
Taken together, the statements appeared to constitute a throwback to Modi’s early years as Gujarat chief minister when he revelled in the sort of anti-Muslim rhetoric promoted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
A disconcerted BJP lobby today wondered why a prospective prime ministerial candidate had not been “extra cautious” with his choice of words. But these reactions came from people who had not come into the party through the Sangh.
To those who had, Modi’s remarks were “unobjectionable” and “inspiring”.
A young MP said: “Modi must have figured out in hours that his remarks hurt the Muslims. That’s why he has tendered a quasi-apology.”
The “quasi-apology” had no tinge of regret. It came in the form of a tweet that simply said: “In our culture, every form of life is valued & worshipped…. People are best judge.”
“Indeed they are,” stressed a Sangh ideologue. “All this is not going to matter to our core voters and a rapidly expanding section outside that core. They have formed a negative opinion of the media.
“I have social relations with management school academics and corporate executives. They wonder why the media is fixated on the 2002 violence. They admit they were influenced by the media that year and turned hostile towards Modi, but they have shed that attitude since then.”
A BJP official attempted to put the outcry against Modi in a socio-political context.
“During the Ayodhya movement, the most vociferous opponents were the offspring of the Nehruvian era — public school-educated people like the Nehru-Gandhis themselves, or Oxbridge and St Stephen’s alumni who held privileged positions in the government, academic world and the private sector. The participants in that (temple) movement were from the then faceless middle and lower-middle classes,” he said.
“Now too, the English-speaking NGO activists and academics cannot bear to see a person like Modi, a ‘chai-wallah’s son’, make it to the country’s topmost post. Modi has risen from the dust and worked hard to get to where he is today. The Nehruvians call their pets ‘puppies’, Modi said ‘kutte ka bachcha’ — so what’s the difference? Maybe to their polished ears it sounds better in English than in Hindi.”
Indeed, the handful in the BJP who admitted to having issues with Modi did not rise from the party ranks and openly confessed to feeling “uncomfortable” with the “RSS-VHP types”.
Modi’s interview was applauded by the Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
“Those who question his statement on being a nationalist, a Hindu and a patriot are unfortunately those who want anti-nationals to rule India,” VHP general secretary Champak Rai said.
“As for the uncalled-for puppy controversy, is it not a fact that no Hindu will ever tread over an ant if he can help it?”
Sangh spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya said: “There was nothing objectionable in what he (Modi) said. His comments were wrongly interpreted.”
Expelled BJP leader and ideologue K.N. Govindacharya said: “Modi is trying to ride two horses simultaneously. Be a ‘Hindu hriday ka samrat’ (monarch of the Hindu heart) in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and a vikas purush (development man) in the non-Hindi-speaking states. It’s a very difficult task.”