G R O U N D   Z E R O

For PM wannabes, no getting away from the past
India needs an integrating PM, not a divisive one. So far Modi has not reassured the minorities that if he becomes PM they need not have any fear of being targeted or discriminated against. 
Raj Chengappa

In the past week, most opinion polls predicted that the tally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the General Election would cross 250 seats, fairly close to getting a simple majority of 272 seats. If that be true, then the strategy of Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, of promising better governance and faster economic growth for the country is working.

Controversial issues such as mandir-masjid and the imposition of a uniform civil code, the BJP’s avowed agenda, have remained recessed with Modi hard-focusing on the ‘Vikas’ (development) plank. Yet as India’s 815-million-strong electorate prepares to exercise its franchise with the first phase of voting beginning on April 7, there are signs that the campaign would increasingly be dominated by controversial communal issues that may polarise the country.

The delay in releasing the BJP’s election manifesto is being attributed to the division among the top leaders about how much emphasis should the party’s traditional Hindutva agenda be given in the document. The party’s official spokespersons though maintain that the delay has happened because they were hard-pressed fixing a date on which all senior leaders, given their busy schedules, could be available for the release function. So April 7 has now been set as the date of release — rather late for a party considered the front-runner in the electoral race.

Meanwhile, in Punjab, the high-voltage battle between Captain Amarinder Singh, Congress leader and former Punjab Chief Minister, and Arun Jaitley, BJP leader and a former Union Minister, has seen a slugfest over the 1984 Operation Bluestar. Questions have also been raised about the Congress party’s complicity in the anti-Sikh riots in the wake of the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandh, in the same year.
There’s an increasing fear this election may end up polarising the electorate.
There’s an increasing fear this election may end up polarising the electorate.

In Uttar Pradesh, candidates from the BJP and Congress have stepped up the vitriol and some have been hauled up by the Election Commissioner for violating the poll code of conduct. In Delhi, the Shahi Iman of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, raised a fresh controversy when he asked his followers to support the Congress over other parties.

The focus has now shifted to the BJP. In the days ahead, the party and its prime-ministerial candidate Modi will be forced to clarify their stand on key issues concerning the protection of minorities. Already, Cobrapost, a news portal, has put out the findings of its sting operation that shows several lower-rung Sangh Parivar leaders confirming that the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 was meticulously planned by them and it was not a spontaneous act of a frenzied mob, as had earlier been claimed.

While Modi appears to have had no major role to play in the demolition, a new book on the post-Godhra riots by journalist Manoj Mitta raises uncomfortable questions about the credibility of the 2002 Gujarat investigations. Meticulously researched, the book titled ‘The Fiction of Fact Finding’ questions the “clean chit” given to Modi by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) for his role as Gujarat Chief Minister during the riots. Mitta had earlier co-authored a book on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and has drawn interesting parallels of how the governments of the day covered up inconvenient truths to let off political leaders and top police officials.

There are troubling questions that the prime-ministerial wannabes of the two parties would have to answer as the campaign progresses. Rahul Gandhi was asked the tough question in a TV interview and came out poorly with his ambiguous reply and lack of an authentic expression of regret over the horrific killings during the 1984 anti-Sikh violence. Modi too has shied away from apologising for the killings of over 1,000 Muslims in 2002.

Only this January, after a Gujarat court verdict upheld the SIT report that he had not abetted the carnage, did Modi express his feelings. In an emotional blog, Modi wrote that he was “shaken to the core” by the 2002 Gujarat massacre. He added, “Grief, sadness, misery, pain, anguish, agony — mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity.” After the court’s ruling, he said, “I felt liberated and at peace.”

While he went on to proclaim ‘Satyameva Jayate’ (truth alone triumphs), what Modi hasn’t said so far is “sorry”, a simple apology for allowing such a carnage to happen when he was at the helm. Nor has Modi, in his campaign speeches, reassured the minorities that if he became the Prime Minister, they need not have any fear of being targeted or discriminated against and that he would ensure their safety, security and rights. Its time candidate Modi gives a categorical assurance on this vital issue. India needs an integrating Prime Minister, not a divisive one.






HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |