GANDHINAGAR: A defiant Narendra Modi on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing during the 2002 Gujarat riots, asserting that he should be hanged in a street square if he was guilty instead of being let off by offering an apology.
Asked about allegations of his indulgence of rioters and persistent demands for the communal violence on his watch that left hundreds dead, Modi told ANI, “I am convinced that if there is even a grain of truth in the allegations … Modi should be hanged in the street square. There should be such exemplary punishment so that no one dares to commit such a crime for 100 years.”
Shrugging off the insistence from many quarters for an apology, Modi said mere apologizing would serve no purpose if he was really guilty. “If he (Modi) has really committed a crime, Modi should not be pardoned. What is the system of pardoning people through apology? There should be no apology. Modi should never be pardoned,” he said.
He expressed indifference towards the continuing criticism that he was evasive about his role in 2002, as well as the demand that he make amends by at least owning up moral responsibility.
“I have said what I had to say. Now, I am in the people’s court, and I am waiting to hear their verdict,” Modi said. “Jitna kehna tha kah diya. I have been exonerated by the people’s court.”
The remark can be seen as Modi, who celebrated the order of a trial court upholding the finding of a Supreme Court-appointed probe that there was no evidence to warrant his prosecution in riot cases, citing a possible victory in the Lok Sabha elections as an endorsement of his claim that he did no wrong. Ironically, BJP had criticized Manmohan Singh when he cited UPA’s victory in the polls in 2009 to dismiss charges of impropriety during the UPA-1 tenure.
He said the issue of an apology and the Gujarat riots was kept alive by a “small coterie” because he went on to win successive elections in the state, adding that the matter would have not attracted attention if he had lost. “There is a small coterie which thinks they have worked hard and have created a storm. But Modi does not lose, does not die. It is their obsession to pull Modi down,” he said.
BJP’s PM nominee also dismissed criticism that he has dodged questions about his complicity in the 2002 riots, emphasizing, “I was not silent, I answered every top journalist in the country from 2002-2007, but noticed there was no exercise to understand the truth.”
The interview to ANI, part of Modi’s media outreach which has so far bypassed most of the English media, saw the Gujarat CM again clarifying that he never linked the death of Muslims in communal violence to a puppy being crushed under a car. He said what he meant to convey was that he would be pained by the death of even an ant. “That does not mean, I am comparing the dead to an ant. In India, there is a difference between language and expression,” he said as he claimed that his remarks were misinterpreted.
He made plain his grievance against the media for its adverse focus on him, but made light of it. “If the media had not worked to malign Modi, then who would have known about Modi today?” he asked.
He also justified his refusal to wear the Islamic skull cap when one was offered to him during a rally. “I will not wear a symbol of appeasement for a photo op. Does Sonia Gandhi wear a skull cap?”
Interestingly, Modi, who has triumphantly scaled up his projections of the NDA total by claiming the combine will cross the 300-mark, chose to be cautious when asked about his fresh estimate, limiting himself to saying that the BJP will get more than 180 seats.
However, he said the NDA would post its best-ever tally, while Congress would slide to its lowest-ever score. “First of all, we might cross 180 as I have been campaigning all across the country,” he said, adding, “Congress will deliver its worst performance in its history, NDA its best.”
Modi also said it was neither right for him or for Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to politicize the issue of crimes against women, and the steps that needed to be taken to ensure their safety.
Significantly, he did not join issue with Rahul’s attack on him over ‘Snoopgate’, the allegation that the Gujarat government subjected a young woman architect to illegal surveillance. “Crimes against women are a national shame. We should all work as a nation. Rahul (Gandhi) shouldn’t politicize it and nor should I,” he said. Although it was the first time he had touched upon the accusation, his laconic reply contrasted with the aggressive response of BJP and his colleagues.