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Quizzed on riots, Modi walks out

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OUR BUREAU Published 21.10.07, 12:00 AM

Oct. 20: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi walked out of a television interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN’s Devil’s Advocate after he was questioned about the post-Godhra carnage and if he had an “image problem”.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar justified the walkout, saying Modi had been “assured” by Thapar that his queries would relate only to 2007 and not 2002, the year the riots broke out.

Thapar maintained that Modi had not set any conditions on the kind of questions at the interview, recorded in Gandhinagar yesterday.

He said his tone was “conciliatory”, that he prefaced every query with a “Can I ask you?” and “Can I point out?”, and spoke nothing that could be construed as impolite.

Javadekar, however, said: “He only kept going back to 2002. This is the era of freedom and Modi chose to withdraw when he saw that the interviewer was clearly biased towards him.”

A senior official in the chief minister’s office said the interviewer had been specifically told that no question on the riots would be entertained but Thapar had a long list of 45 questions on Godhra and dissidence in the party’s state unit.

Thapar, known for his inquisitorial style, said this was the first time an interviewee had left his programme.

He later wrote to Modi, saying he didn’t want to “upset” him. The chief minister said their “friendship” would continue and he would give him another interview shortly.

The transcript of the interview follows:

Karan Thapar: Mr Narendra Modi, let’s start by talking about you. In the six years that you have been the CM of Gujarat, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has declared Gujarat to be the best administered state. India Today, on two separate occasions, declared that you are the most efficient chief minister. And despite that people still call you to your face a mass murderer and they accuse you of being prejudiced against Muslims? Do you have an image problem?

Narendra Modi: I think it’s not proper to say that (there are) people. There are two or three persons who talk in this terminology and I always say God bless them.

Q: You are saying this is the conspiracy of two or three persons only?

Modi: I have not said so.

Q: But you are saying it’s only two or three people.

Modi: This is the information I have. It’s the people’s voice.

Q: Can I point out to you that in September 2003, the Supreme Court said that they had lost faith in the Gujarat government? In April 2004, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that you were like a modern day Nero who looks the other side when helpless children and innocent women were being burnt. The Supreme Court seems to have a problem with you.

Modi: I have a small request to make. Please go through the SC judgment. If there is anything in writing, I’ll be happy to know everything.

Q: There was nothing in writing, you are right. It was an observation.

Modi: If it is in (the) judgment, then I’ll be happy to give you the answer.

Q: But do you mean a criticism by the chief justice in court doesn’t matter?

Modi: It’s a simple request. Please go through the court judgment. Hand out the sentence you are quoting and let the people know it.

Q: OK. It wasn’t just an open comment made by the Chief Justice. In August 2004, the Supreme Court reopened some 2,100 cases out of a total of around 4,600 — almost 40 per cent — and they did so because they believed that justice hadn’t happened in Gujarat.

Modi: I’ll be happy. Ultimately, the court of law will take the judgment.

Q: But isn’t this the reason that despite the fact (that) India Today called you the best chief minister, (and) the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation says Gujarat is the best administered state, tens of millions say Modi is prejudiced against the Muslims. This is why I ask you do you have an image problem?

Modi: Actually, I have not spent a single minute on my image. And that can also be a reason. I am busy with my work. I am committed to Gujarat, I am dedicated to Gujarat. I never talk about my image, (have) never spent a single minute for my image, and confusions may be there.

Q: I’ll tell you what the problem is, even five years after the Gujarat killings of 2002, the ghost of Godhra still haunts you. Why have you not done more to allay that ghost?

Modi: This I give it to media persons like Karan Thapar. Let them enjoy.

Q: Can I suggest something to you?

Modi: I have no problem.

Q: Why can’t you say that you regret the killings that happened? Why can’t you say maybe the government should have done more to protect Muslims?

Modi: What I had to say I have said at that time, and you can find out my statements.

Q: Just say it again.

Modi: Not necessary I have to talk about in 2007 everything you want to talk about.

Q: But by not saying it again, by not letting people hear the message repeatedly, you are allowing an image contrary to the interest of Gujarat to continue. It’s in your hands to change it.

Modi: (Takes the microphone off.) I’ll have to rest. I need some water.

Q: Paani (water).

Modi: Dosti bani rahe. Bas. I’ll be happy. You came here. I am happy and thankful to you. I can’t do this interview. It’s OK your things are. Apne ideas hain, aap bolte rahiye, aap karte rahiye. Three-four questions I’ve already enjoyed. Nahin please.

Q: But Modi saab...

Modi: Nahin please, Karan

Q: But Modi saab

Modi: Karan, dekho main dostana sambhand rakhna chahta hoon, aap usko koshish kariye…

Q: Mujhe ek cheez samjhaiye, Sir. I am not talking about doing anything wrong. I am saying why can’t you correct your image?

Modi: This is not the time. Uske liye aap mujhe 2002 mein mile hote, 2003 mein mile hote, main sab kar leta.

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