Narendra Modi’s interview on Times Now’s program “Frankly Speaking,” hosted by Arnab Goswami, one of India’s most belligerent anchors, was perhaps the most watched television event here on the evening of May 8, a week away from the end of the largest democratic exercise in history.
Speaking almost only in Hindi, Modi faced opening question by Goswami on the encroaching cheapening of Indian political rhetoric, which has descended to personal attacks and mudslinging. He was asked why the elections were not being fought on issues but instead on caste-ist comments and communal posturing.
Mr Modi voiced his resentment at allegations by the Congress, that he has resorted to “neech” tactics, saying that allusions were being made about his humble origins in an obtuse manner. He went on the attack by saying Congress, with its numerous corruptions scandals, was in no moral position to comment on what is “neech.”
He decidedly played the caste card exhaustively, and tried to elicit sympathy from both his anchor and the show’s viewers. After allowing a bit of moaning, Arnab Goswami steered the conversation towards the communal undertones of Modi’s campaign, speaking specifically about comments made by BJP representatives.
Goswami then focused on Modi’s own comments in West Bengal and Assam, about Bangladeshi immigrants to which Modi attempted to say he was differentiating between victims of religious persecution and “infiltrators,” a word he repeatedly uttered to mean Bangladeshi immigrants, and never referred to them as anything but.
He went into an emotional tangent about how the Hindu population in Bangladesh has dropped to only 7%, implying that a wide-scale pogrom of Hindus was underway. One wonders if Modi imagines Godhra-like riots everywhere in Bangladesh against Hindus.
It was obvious that Modi consumes the Hindu version of right-wing extremist propaganda that creates imagined realities based on misrepresented facts, the likes that Islamists use to entitle them to a persecution grievance.
He attempted to suggest that Hindus persecuted anywhere in the world should be allowed to find refuge in India, to which Arnab challenged him by asking why only Hindus should be given refuge from religious persecution in a country that is decidedly secular.
Under a barrage of questions by Goswami on the issue, Modi insists that his use of the world “Hindu” is not the narrow application that has been used as synonymous to Sanatan Dharma, but the wider application as all people of Indian origins, ie its geographic rather than communal usage.
However his acrobatic attempt at establishing credibility falls on its face when one remembers that he spoke of “worshippers of Durga,” when he spoke in West Bengal, indicating that he is talking very clearly about a specific type of Indian heritage rather than the general one.
Modi then mentioned countries like Fiji and places in Africa where Indians may be persecuted and said they were all welcome in an India under his watch. Arnab held him to this answer and tried to force Modi to say that he means Indians of any religion – Sikh, Buddhist, Christians, or Muslims, to which Modi reluctantly replies in the affirmative but conspicuously leaves out the word “Muslim,” when he re-lists what he confirmed as “Indians.”
Arnab questioned him on the inclusion of Maya Kodnani in his cabinet, a person who was later convicted of being an active participant in the Gujarat riots, which Modi dismissed by saying that she had not yet been charge-sheeted when she was part of his state government.
Modi then confidently responded to questions about whether he did his best in Gujarat after the riots, asserting that it was handled better than other communal riots in India and that the courts had found him innocent.
After a series of questions about domestic issues such as centre-state relations, coalitions, nepotism, economic growth, the Snoopgate scandal and political patronage, he was asked about his Foreign policy. He said talks with Pakistan would be stalled so long as “infiltrator’s and bombs stopped assailing India,” although it’s unclear as to which part of India he thinks is currently under attack by Pakistan. His tone regarding Pakistan was terse and forbidding, hinting that dealings with Pakistan would be based on an imagined but non-existent asymmetry of power.
When asked about whether an India led by him would have snubbed the US the way Brazil did after US spying allegations were revealed to be true, he said he would deal with cases like that as and when they arose and could not comment on it without a full review of the facts – an evasive answer if there ever was one.
In short, in the world according to Narendra Modi, only his own leadership can be sound and just.