The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stoic silence on CII apology to Modi

New Delhi, March 7: Corporate India today erected a wall of silence around the craven apology that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) made to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

None of the principal cast of players in the 10-month saga that saw relations between the apex chamber and Modi hit a nadir — CII secretary general Tarun Das, industrialists Rahul Bajaj, Jamshyd Godrej and Anu Aga — were available for comment.

No one was ready to say why the apology was made and whether it was appropriate to do so.

Industrialists squirmed, ducked, prevaricated and hemmed and hawed when asked whether they supported the manner in which CII finally capitulated and issued the apology to the Gujarat chief minister who is becoming increasingly intolerant of criticism, especially after his resounding victory in the December polls.

Relations between the apex chamber and Modi hit a new low at the February 6 conclave of top corporate honchos in Delhi where Bajaj and Godrej had tried to needle him by raising questions about Gujarat's law and order situation.

Modi had bristled when Bajaj had remarked that 2002 was a “lost year for Gujarat”; he had invited Bajaj and his “pseudo-secularist” friends to Gujarat where he promised to answer their “sharp questions”. That meeting has never taken place — and probably never will.

Ever since then Modi has boycotted all CII functions — even those held in Ahmedabad, forcing Das to make the conciliatory gesture.

But was it right for CII to apologise for Bajaj’s comments' None of the industrialists that The Telegraph spoke to would reply categorically to that question. Neither did anyone want to comment on the precedent that the chamber was setting: if it was Modi today, it could be Jayalalitha next.

Industrialists, who had given Anu Aga a standing ovation at the chamber's annual conclave last April after she recounted the horrific tales she had heard at the refugee camps, have now made a volte face and seem to have closed ranks behind Das supporting his expression of contrition to the man who was called the Butcher of Gujarat by a human rights activist who had barged into a CII conclave in Mumbai in January.

Many were too scared to speak to the press — afraid to find themselves misquoted or dragged into the controversy which they felt was best put behind them.

Ajay Sriram, CMD of DCM Shriram Consolidated, said, “If there is any misunderstanding between the chamber and Modi, it is absolutely right for Das and Co to go and apologise.”

No one was willing to draw the subtle distinction between Rahul Bajaj and CII: the guest had been given cause for offence and it was incumbent on the chamber to express regret and move on.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Niranjan Hiranandani, managing director of Hiranandani Constructions, said: “You don't call a guest and reprimand him. If Modi's perceptions were hurt, the chamber did the right thing to sort out the issue with the minister.”

However, a senior official from Cement Corporation of India (CCI) said, “CII used blunt language and this was wrong on their part. But they have committed a second mistake by formally going and apologising before the chief minister. It was just not needed. The chamber could have resolved the matter in a more subtle manner than they have.”

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