Narendra Modi’s extravagant jamboree, however, begs renewed criticism for the sheer effrontery with which he seems to have pulled it off. A publicly-funded ego trip calculated to project him onto the centre-stage of national politics and clean up his image of a communal bigot, it was another instance of his blatant abuse of power. Together with the conspicuous full-page advertisements and the deliberate misinformation he is propagating about the Supreme Court giving him a clean chit on the communal question (when it has done nothing of the sort), the entire exercise reeks of Nazi-style propaganda. But try as he might, the fact remains that the wounds of Godhra are still too raw in the minds of people for him to hope that they will ever mistake him for a messiah of peace and harmony. It is but obvious to any keen observer of his actions that Modi has not mended his ways at all. He is still as intolerant and unrepentant as he ever was. The arrest and detention of peacefully-protesting riot victims led by Mallika Sarabhai exemplifies the highhandedness and unease with which he treats dissenting opinion. Even as we waited to hear if he would offer a modicum of apology to the nation for the communal violence and bloodshed that he actively facilitated, or at any rate did little to prevent while he was at the helm of affairs, he did not show a single sign of remorse. On the contrary, his entire demeanour conveyed the completely fictitious idea that Gujarat is and has always been a haven of religious tolerance and that the rest of the world was conspiring against him to tarnish the image of his beloved state.
It is as unrealistic to expect Modi to apologize for Godhra as it may have been to expect Deng Xiaoping to apologize for the Tiananmen Massacre, or Hitler for the Second World War. In fact, far from apologizing, he is so hopelessly defiant that he can’t even hold his own ground when asked simple questions on Godhra. One can see it in this 2007 interview with Karan Thapar from which he walked away thoroughly unnerved when asked why he had been unable to improve his image five years after the Godhra riots. That question may still be haunting him today, which explains his latest attempt for a makeover, but the ghosts of Godhra will continue to haunt him for more time to come.
To date, Modi has been hiding from these ghosts behind the cover of three arguments - his much-bandied-about ‘model of development’, his electoral victory even after the massacre and the absence of a criminal conviction. But the way I see it, none of these arguments hold water. If development of a state comes at the price of genocide, then the less said about that development model the better. As far as election results are concerned, they can hardly be treated as arbiters of a man’s character, and more so in India where there seems to exist a negative correlation between moral character and electoral popularity. Sometimes it makes one wonder if universal franchise was a good idea in the first place.
The third argument – that of an absence of conviction– has unfortunately to be put up with. The chronic problem with our system is that it takes an inordinate amount of time between the commission of a crime and the delivery of justice and the lengthy process can easily be waylaid by influential individuals. I for one am a firm believer in the philosophy that a person is innocent until proven guilty through established processes of law. Modi’s government, however, has been implicated in the 2002 riots by several rights bodies and enquiry commissions, including the NHRC and Amnesty International. Even the United States of America (whose Congressional report on Gujarat’s development he brandishes today as a certificate of his achievements) considers him unfit to tread on their soil and had famously denied him a visa for ‘alleged violation of religious freedom’. All suspicion points in his direction and conviction is now just a matter of time and the efficiency of the criminal justice system. Reserving judgment on his complicity in mass murder does not necessarily mean that we must continue to entertain his burgeoning ambitions to the extent that he may actually come to realize them in the near future.
I cannot help but extend the comparison of Modi with Nazi leaders a bit further. Obviously, the scale and context of the two are vastly different from each other, but the underlying motives and philosophies guiding their actions are the same. Robert Jackson described these motives in his opening statement for the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials:
“They are living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power… They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.”
In the person of Narendra Modi survive those unholy forces that can undo the fabric of our society. It is said that when the despotic Emperor Nero came to know that the Senate had declared him a public enemy and ordered that he be beaten to death in the Forum, he drove a dagger into his throat and committed a slow and painful suicide to escape the ignominy of a public beating.
The raped and maimed victims of the communal riots may well wish for such a poetic end to our ‘modern-day Nero’ (as the Supreme Court has called Modi) but the least that we can expect is a conviction that will clip his wings. Whether the institutions of our democracy are up to this task is the burning question of the day and the test of our times.
Photo credit: cartoonistsatish.blogspot.com