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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Case Study - Media and Narendra Modi - By Ravindra Pandya

April 24, 2011

Page: 8/32

In focus

A Case Study
Media and Narendra Modi
By Ravindra Pandya

GUJARAT Chief Minister Narendra Modi is facing relentless criticism from media not only in his own country India but in all prominent media world over for the last almost ten years for anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in February 2002. These riots erupted after burning of a railway coach of Sabarmati Express near Godhra Railway Station in Gujarat by Muslim mob in which Hindu pilgrims (karsevaks) were returning after visiting Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. In this mob attack 59 men, women and children were burnt alive. The local court has recently convicted the culprits with death penalty and prison.

India has a long history of communal riots but never any head of the state or Prime Minister of the country has been held personally responsible for riots and had to undergo police investigation. But Modi is facing that situation. Probably anti-minority particularly anti-Muslim image of RSS and BJP leads to acceptance of wild allegations and Modi is also suffering from this inherent deficiency.

As per the media allegations (1) Modi deliberately did not take steps to halt the anti-Muslim riots and some have even alleged that (2) he gave three days to Hindu mobs to commit murders and arson. Some have also alleged that (3) the riots were planned by Modi. Till date no concrete proof has surfaced to substantiate these media allegations of political nature. The Supreme Court is monitoring many court cases related to the riots.

It may also be mentioned here that before these anti-Muslim riots, less violent anti-Christian riots also took place in Dang district of Gujarat prior to Modi became Chief Minister. This has also led to continuous criticism of Gujarat Government by western media. The western media apparently raise the issue of anti-Muslim riots but naturally they are motivated by the anti-Christian riots and that is why US visa was denied to Modi.

It is an accepted fact that riots or mob violence, of any type, is a sure sign of administrative failure. If the administrative machinery is vigilant such incidents cannot take place. But riots do take place because of multiple factors and are considered administrative systematic failure.

But why media took on Modi relentlessly and is continuing with the tirade without any concrete proof to substantiate the allegations? On the contrary evidence has been produced in court recently to the effect that NGO of Teesta Setalvad had facilitated forged affidavits to malign Modi and Gujarat Government, many witnesses have turned hostile and statements of many officials have not been corroborated with facts.

Before becoming Chief Minister Modi had never contested any election for any public office and had always worked on the party posts. So he did not have any administrative experience when he took over as Chief Minister. The senior administrative and police officials should be blamed for mishandling the riots because in law and order situations officials are not suppose to take or await instructions from above or political masters as per administrative and legal provisions. Maintenance of law and order is the sole responsibility of the administration.

Narendra Modi became Chief Minister of Gujarat on October 7, 2001 after party decided to replace Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel. Modi had to contest by-election of the state assembly within six months. Election process takes about 45 days and we should count minimum 15 more days for Election Commission preparations before the by-election was announced. The result for the Rajkot assembly seat was declared on February 24, 2002 from where Modi was declared elected. So the new Chief Minister Modi was practically busy in this all important by-election of his political career during January-February 2002. Three days after the declaration of this result the communal riots started in Gujarat on February 27, 2002. It is a point to be noted that riots took place just three days after the by-election.

So was there any plan to involve Modi in riots and unseat him? There must be some purpose behind organising heinous crime of burning rail passengers in a coach. Suppose Hindus burn Haj passengers in Pakistan or Muslims burn church-going Christians in Britain or USA, what will be the fallout? After 9/11 there is a feeling of discrimination among Muslims in many western countries including US and Britain. There is no justification of riots anywhere or of any nature but when extraordinary incident takes place than one should take the context of the incidents.

For a person who had earlier never contested any election and did not have any administrative experience, riots must have been quite unsettling. When a Chief Minister is changed, the top administration of the state is in total flux. Normally under the situation Chief Secretary, Director General of Police and senior administrative and police officers in the field are summarily changed or they are under the process of shifting. All this takes few months to settle the administrative machinery. Under the circumstances a new Chief Minister cannot plan riots as is being alleged. In India, administrative machinery at all levels involves so many personnel including Muslim and Christian officials that nobody, not even a head of state, can secretly plan such things. It has never happened anywhere.

And the all important question is why the newly appointed Chief Minister will plan or encourage riots or plan to murder Muslims that too in a part of the State? How he will benefit from this? These riots took place in less than half the districts of the Gujarat State. For argument sake, even if he had succeeded in killing all the Muslims in ten districts of Gujarat then how he would have been benefited? What benefit he would have derived?

It may be recalled that at the time of riots in Gujarat National Democratic Alliance Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, was in power at the Centre in which Modi’s party BJP was major partner.

Shri Vajpayee is considered ‘secular’ and it seems that the then Union Cabinet Ministers Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh, who were privy to PM’s thinking, were sure that Shri Vajpayee will seek Modi’s resignation as per Indian political tradition to close the chapter of Gujarat riots and to ward off national and international criticism. Arun Shourie had given sufficient hint about this in his writings on the issue. It seems that the media got the hint of impeding removal of Modi and it became more vocal against Modi. After few days the BJP was holding its National Meet in Goa where the media expected Shri Vajpayee to publicly call for Modi’s resignation in his address. During this crucial gap of few days the opinion of national and international media had crystallised. Probably RSS leadership and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani were able to ward off the announcement by Shri Vajpayee and Modi continued as Chief Minister. But in the mean time the media was already committed and had openly blamed Modi for riots expecting his impeding departure from the scene. But ultimately it did not materialise. So it seems that the sulky media and defiant Modi resulted in the present situation. From the very beginning the Congress is trying to derive political benefit out of the situation but all its efforts are resulting in strengthening Modi.

In the past almost ten years, despite continued aggressive media campaign, Modi has succeeded in winning series of assembly, parliament and urban and rural local body elections in Gujarat. His development agenda is also being acclaimed within country and outside. On top of this he has won over the support of sizeable sections of Muslim voters in Gujarat as is clear from the by-election in a Muslim dominated Kaithal assembly seat and rural and urban body elections. So Modi’s stock has gone up at the national level also.

We will have to wait for about two more years to see end of this unique media-led political drama by which time major Gujarat riots court cases would have been finalised and BJP would have decided its Prime Ministerial candidate for the next (Parliament) Lok Sabha elections scheduled to be held in 2014.



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