A bit of diligence and quiet logic would have blown Modi’s cover, but Reuters instead of ‘Hard Talk’ played boy scout and let him off.
This week TV provided interesting lessons on the way men, especially politicians and corporate dons remake themselves. It is not just about an image makeover, a cosmetic uplift but a plastic surgery for the soul. Of this group, Narendra Modi is the most sinisterly fascinating figure.
The Reuters interview reported repeatedly on TV deserves a deep study. Reading the extracts, listening to the reports all one saw was on innocuous set of statements. Reuters must have signed a tacit good behaviour clause to field such a list of questions. Modi presented himself in an earnest light blue kurta, speaking in short sentences, a telegraphic English, where he almost sounded like a lecturer, presenting syllogisms, combining logical propositions with a touch of rhetoric.
There were two or three touchy parts. On being asked to define himself, Modi claimed he was a born Hindu and a patriot. He claimed both were easily defensible and legitimate categories. Therefore, he was a Hindu nationalist.
On being asked about the Gujarat 2002 carnage, Modi disclaimed any responsibility. The analogy he used was interesting. He claimed that even if one was driving or in the back seat of a car and the vehicle ran over a small dog, would one not feel pain and concern?
The reaction to the two statements, at least as reported on TV was violent and stereotyped. One can understand survivors like Professor Bandukwala, the physicist and civil rights activist or Mrs Zakia Jafri feeling a sense of anger but what one saw was party leaders like Digvijay Singh (of Hindu terror fame) and Kamal Siddique turning the little dog into a puppy and condemning Modi for equating Muslims and puppies.
I think politics and political analysis is about the art of listening, of patiently analyzing and tracking strategies. By yelling and screaming on TV, by throwing stereotype at Modi, one let him get away with the Reuters gambit.
One should listen to the tapes again. Modi was castigated for claiming that he was a Hindu patriot. Our “secular” politicians claimed that he should try being a nationalist politician. I think it sounded simplistic because Modi could claim to be part of the tradition of Madan Mohan Malviya and Tilak who were Hindu nationalists, without the pejorative uses we attribute to the term today.
Where TV let him get away scot-free was in the car analogy. The focus was instead on the linguistic term “puppy”. Modi could be the driver or could be involved in back seat driving. It is an interesting claim for a chief minister during a riot. The question was who was in the front seat when the car hit the little dog (substitute any other form of violence)? Secondly, the analogy of the car and dog makes the riot sound like an accident when it was as much a designer event as Modi’s career.
A few quick questions about the car analogy would have exposed Modi. What is frightening is here is a man sanitising his own violence, trying to play down the memory of an event. Modi in terms of ethics also doesn’t know the difference between guilt and responsibility. A re-reading of the Ramayana or Gita would not hurt his alleged literacy. I wish Reuters instead of playing boy scout had played “Hard Talk” with Gujarat CM. Somehow a bit of diligence and quiet logic would have blown his cover. Let us be clear. Whether it is Hindu nationalist or Marxist secularists, both are capable of murder most foul. Unfortunately, the climate of political correctness, where secularism becomes a fig leaf for inanity let Modi get away. TV failed the Indian audiences as analyst and interrogator.