The Pulse

How Long Can Narendra Modi Evade Questions?

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The Pulse

How Long Can Narendra Modi Evade Questions?

Never before has a prospective Indian Prime Minister polarized so many. Can Narendra Modi address his past?

Qamar Waheed Naqvi is not a popular name in India but he is well known in media circles in New Delhi. His resignation as a news director of India TV, a Hindi news channel, has made him the center of attention. The reason for his resignation was an interview that Narendra Modi, the Prime Ministerial candidate of Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), gave to the station last week. Naqvi is said to be upset over the interview, which he believes was “fixed” and was an attempt at a “public relations exercise” to promote the BJP candidate.

India TV is a not a particularly popular studio; it is hardly watched by any serious viewers and remains relevant owing to its sensational news programming. Modi’s choice to be interviewed by such a shallow TV station raised eyebrows across the media about his real intentions. This was the second TV appearance of the Hindu nationalist leader in less than a fortnight. Before this, he was interviewed by Madhu Kishwar for the regional channel ETV. Kishwar does not enjoy the status of a serious journalist; she is popularly known as a very loyal Modi supporter and apologist. Her blind support for the BJP leader, who is believed to be the frontrunner for the prime ministerial post in 2014, is well known and she has also written an apologistic account of the Gujarat Chief Minister’s career.

A majority of Indians who follow the news know where the loyalties and political choices of Rajat Sharma, the owner of India TV, and Madhu Kishwar lie. What raises questions are Modi’s intentions. Why does he refuse to be questioned by impartial sources? Why does he not want to face the nation over the issues which cloud his political reputation and his past actions? Why does he participate in the charade of giving an interview without answering any serious questions?

In his latest interview with ANI TV news agency, the BJP leader again received a walk over. There were no serious attempts to challenge him; it was just a general interview with little cross examination of the man who wants to be — and is likely to be — the next leader of India.

All three of the media houses who have interviewed Modi thus far are not known for their unbiased and serious political reporting. They are largely channels run by individuals with strong BJP leanings. None of them questioned his past and his failure to handle the 2002 riots that claimed over 1,000 lives. Questions were not asked about the complicity of his ministers and his track record after 2002, where he exploited communal sentiments to win elections. There are serious questions being raised about the clean chit the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) bestowed upon Modi regarding the infamous communal flare up in 2002. The BJP’s presumptive prime minister only picks up palliative interviewers and pliable media houses for his television appearances.

Long before the BJP leader anointed himself  the mascot of economic development in India, his claim to fame (or infamy) was the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat. He exploited the incident to win two successive elections. He built his image and political career by polarizing voters in Hindu-majority Gujarat. His language, mannerisms, political tone and tenor have never displayed any contrition for what happened. For over a decade, he refused to reach out to the Muslim minority in his own state. It is just recently that he has started wooing the country’s largest minority. Question also arise about Modi’s silence on the recent Muzaffarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh. Why has he refused to react to such a sensitive incident that claimed the lives of over 60 Muslims and displaced hundreds of families? Questions also arise about the pivotal role given to his loyal companion, Amit Shah, who faces serious charges of murder stemming from on a fake encounter case while Shah was the deputy Home Minister of Gujarat. As a result, he was barred from entering his state by the Supreme Court for few years. Shah has been made the BJP’s official in charge of the key state of Uttar Pradesh, which abounds in communal fault lines.

Modi’s silence on these issues is not comforting to many. What is also disturbing is the role of some media houses in promoting the silence of a man who is a serious contender for India’s most powerful political position.

It is this strategic silence that has resulted in many conscientious Indian citizens to issuing an open letter pointing to the danger Modi will pose as the Prime Minister of India. Much of the Indian intelligentsia and artistic community has also come together with an appeal for voters to exercise deep thought and reflection before voting for a man whose secular credentials are highly suspect.

Recently, The Economist questioned the right-wing Hindu leader’s credentials to be India’s prime minister, saying that India deserves better.

Never before has a candidate so close to holding the office of India’s Prime Minister polarized the country as much as Modi. There are serious apprehensions about his credentials, not only among India’s minorities but also its liberal and secular citizens. Modi’s silence on his past further reinforces these doubts. Unless Modi opens himself up to be questioned about his past he cannot lead the nation with confidence. He can evade the questions, but will the questions evade him?