[ 15 Feb, 2007 2019hrs IST INDIA TIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
POLITICALLY CORRECT: A murderer from Punjab is a murderer, and one from Kashmir is not, asks Modi (PTI Photo)
NEW DELHI: Is Hindutva icon Narendra Modi sounding increasingly circumspect and politically correct as elections in Gujarat approach? Has he stopped talking about minority appeasement, for instance? No, says the man himself. "My language is what it was."
To elucidate, he talks about a recent visit to Punjab where he brought up the issue of Parliament-attack- accused Afzal's plea for clemency. The Congress he said had taken but an hour to reject a similar plea from the accused in General Vaidya's assassination. But on Afzal, despite the Supreme Court endorsing that he be hanged, the Congress is dragging its feet. "A murderer from Punjab is a murderer, and one from Kashmir is not - where is the justice in this?"
That is vintage Modi - making tenuous links to drive home his point and derive the maximum political mileage. Punjab went to the polls this week.
The Gujarat Chief Minister recounts this incident in a long chat with RSS weekly Panchjanya in its latest issue. That the state elections due at the end of this year are top of the mind is clear from the fact that a major chunk of what he says is Gujarat-related. As always, he wears his swayamsevak badge for all to see, but talk of nationalism begins with the state. Deftly, he weaves personal politics with an electoral agenda, denying national aspirations or even a propensity to be controversial.
"I don't say anything that is controversial", says Modi. "I only say what I think is in the interest of the nation. Like Lokmanya Tilak used the Ganesh festival as a vehicle for the freedom struggle, I have used Narmada as a symbol of the country's development."
Asked about when the Sachar Committee on the status of Muslims came calling in Gujarat, Modi says: "They asked me, what do you do for Muslims? I said I do nothing. Please write my words down carefully, I do nothing for Muslims or for Hindus. Whatever I do, I do for 50 million Gujaratis."
Then he lashed out. "What you (the committee) are doing is designed to divide people. Till you do divisive things I have no information for you. I have brought Narmada waters to the dry Sabarmati. Should I now tell you how much of Sabarmati water has gone into Hindu stomachs and how much into Muslim stomachs?" The sound and fury ends with a tongue-in-cheek recounting of how the committee members were heard saying it was best not to mess with Modi.
Hate campaigns don't wash with Modi. Whether it is protests against the Yoga practice of Suryanamaskar or the enduring campaign against him personally, "I don't care", is the essence of Modi's reaction. But yes, the consummate politico knows it's not enough to brush aside all criticism. "As a swayamsevak I have tried to fulfil all responsibilities. If someone brings my mistakes to my notice I'll try to correct them. If I knew all my mistakes I would be God. That's why I expect people to come forward and acquaint me with my flaws."
Or, when asked about his ambitions in national politics, the Gujarat CM says in most unlikely fashion: "I am a small state functionary." He insists he holds but a small position as the chief minister of Gujarat and as such will not speak on matters at the national level. But, "since childhood I've been a swayamsevak and have prayed for my nation's glory. And I will do all I can to see Gujarat contributes to that national glory."
So where is the famed arrogance? There is no arrogance, says Modi, even getting philosophical. Asked what his deepest regret is, he says: "Sadness and joy are a part of life. I have no complaints, no expectations nor a personal agenda."