New Delhi, Jan. 11: A feisty Odissi dancer from France braved Hindutva cheerleaders at a meeting of non-resident Indians here today, questioned Narendra Modi on his limits of tolerance and tainted the rosy picture the chief minister painted as he unveiled his vision of “Gujarat Unlimited”.
A battery of politicians and Modi’s supporters surrounded Devasmita Patnaik as she questioned him just after the chief minister welcomed investors to a Gujarat that he said presented unlimited opportunities.
“Of late,” Modi said, “Gujarat has been the target of systematic propaganda by vested interests.... Gujarat will continue to progress without hiccups.”
“Excuse me, Mr Chief Minister, I have heard you speak of a prosperous Gujarat for 40 minutes but there has not been even a word on the way minorities in Gujarat have been treated. We Indians in Europe hang down our heads in shame after that,” the waif-like Devasmita, hair tied tightly in a bun, stood up and asked.
On the dais, Rajagopalan, Modi’s principal secretary, announced a tea break for which Modi immediately left and posed for photographs with non-resident Indians. His industries minister, Ashok Bhatt, the minister of state for defence, Harin Pathak, BJP MP Jayaben Thakkar, Dr Ranjani Kumar, a doctor from the UK, and several others went up to Devasmita and picked up an argument.
“Madam, where have you come from' Are you a Gujarati'” Bhatt asked.
“I am an Indian. I live in France,” she replied. “Why has not the chief minister...”
“Madam, you will get your chance to ask questions during the interactive session,” Bhatt cut her short.
Kumar joined the argument at this point and asked where she was from. “From France,” she repeated.
“Then I must say you are from cuckoo land,” Kumar retorted. “Aren’t we shameful after what happened in Godhra'”
“I am talking about security for all minorities,” said Devasmita.
Her husband, Salim Karim, a Paris-based businessman, added: “You cannot simply ignore what has happened.”
“Not once, not once has Modi apologised for what has happened to Muslims in Gujarat,” Ashok Monany, a Paris-based physician, said. His wife nodded in agreement.
Karmaly Akbar, a pharmacist, part of the 30-strong delegation of NRIs from France and Madagascar, emphasised that Modi should say sorry.
But Devasmita and her friends were heavily outnumbered.
Satya Prakash, a delegate associated with the BJP, asked her not to trust the media. “Isn’t it true that so many Muslims were killed'” Devasmita shot back. Minutes later, as the house reassembled for the interactive session, questioner after questioner praised Modi.
Suhas Desai from the US, referring to Advani’s response to Nadira Naipaul’s question at the meet yesterday, said the Gujarat and Central governments should stop apologising.
Devasmita stood up again, took the microphone and told Modi: “I am an Odissi dancer in France. Through my dance I represent the tolerance that India is known for. India is a place for many religions. Please tell us how we can keep our heads high. What actions have you taken to make the minorities feel secure'”
Modi took the question. “Madam,” he told her, “I think you and I think the same.”
That was that.