| Nafisa Ali (centre) leading the protest against Modi in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Nov. 24: Narendra Modi can’t seem to shake off the ghost of Godhra.
Possibly, in frustration over another row of raucous protests today by social activists led by Nafisa Ali, the man who has been called the Butcher of Gujarat after the carnage in February-March 2002 said he wished the bloody riots had not happened.
“What happened one-and-a-half years ago is something that should not have happened in a civilised society,” Modi said after demonstrators led by Ali blocked the entry of the Gujarat chief minister to the venue of the India Economic Summit being organised here by the Davos-based World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
It is the closest Modi has ever come to expressing regret over an incident that has pitchforked him to the top of the popularity charts within the saffron brigade.
The slogan-shouting demonstrators disrupted proceedings for almost 45 minutes, protesting against the decision to invite Modi to address the annual event that gives ministers, bureaucrats, top industrialists and foreign delegates the opportunity to debate the state of India’s economy and its reform process.
Shouting slogans like “Mass murderer Narendra Modi down, down”, the protesters — who slipped into the venue and came together just before Modi arrived — slammed the WEF and CII for inviting the chief minister to address the meet.
“We want the BJP and those people who support people like Praveen Togadia and Modi to know that the people of India will not tolerate such persons and allow them to repeat what they did in Gujarat,” said Shabnam Hashmi, one of the activists of the NGO that goes by the name Anhad (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy).
Modi was invited to talk about good governance which the irate activists said was a travesty. “How can the CII and WEF even think of inviting someone who has been questioned about the quality of his governance by none less than the Supreme Court of India. The National Human Rights Commission has also questioned the quality of governance in Gujarat,” Hashmi said.
In his speech later, Modi said: “Gujarat is known for good governance and a forward looking and responsive administration.”
“It is wrong to project the state as unsafe for investment. We have signed MoUs worth Rs 66,000 crore with foreign companies during the last Navratri. Chinese and US companies have also shown interest in starting projects in the state.”
“Ahmedabad is the most peaceful city in the world and minorities like Parsis and Muslims are prosperous,” the Gujarat chief minister said.
Today’s incident is the third time that Modi has been heckled when invited to address a gathering of industrialists. The first was in January this year when a former JNU and Oxford student activist, Jairus Banaji, wormed his way into a CII conference in Mumbai and demanded to know why the industry forum was feting a “murderer who had blood on his hands”.
At another conference in Delhi in mid-February, industrialists Rahul Bajaj and Jamshyd Godrej expressed concern over law and order in Gujarat, prompting Modi to upbraid them. Today, Ali was seen urging Bajaj to join the protests — but the industrialist declined.
Most participants were unmoved by the protests. However, a few supported them. Vijay Mahajan, head of consultancy firm Basix India, said: “I refuse to hear Modi speak and preach (to) us on a subject like best practices. This is complete nonsense.”
In an attempt to clear the air after the demonstration, the CII director-general said: “It seems Davos is in Delhi. Protests in India are very normal activity. It is a free country and sections of society have a right to express their views.”
Later, asked about the protests, Modi said: “I don’t know anything about it.”