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Secular mask

Last Updated : 19 April 2013, 16:49 IST
Last Updated : 19 April 2013, 16:49 IST

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The Gujarat government’s decision to seek death penalty for 10 convicts, including a former state cabinet minister Maya Kodnani and a senior Bajrang Dal leader, in the Naroda Patya massacre case will not be seen as prompted by a sense of justice but by politics.

The government has also decided to ask for enhancement of  the prison terms awarded to 22 other convicts and appeal against acquittals of some others. They had been found guilty last year and convicted for their roles in the massacre of 97 Muslims in the post-Godhra violence in 2002. Though it may be claimed that the government’s decision is largely procedural, as it is the SIT which decided to appeal the verdict, chief minister Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions probably have much to do with the government’s move.

Modi’s biggest handicap in the campaign for acceptance as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is the taint of the 2002 communal killings. He faces charges of not only not doing enough to prevent and control the attacks on Muslims but also inspiring them. Many NDA partners, and some leaders even in the BJP, are uncomfortable with the communal image of  Modi. The JD(U) has clearly said that it would support only a secular leader for the prime minister’s office. The decision to seek harsher punishment for the Naroda Patya convicts might be intended to project Modi as a secular leader. It would show Modi as a leader who is fair and just and ready to invoke the provisions for maximum punishment for those involved in communal killings. Who could claim greater secular credentials?

But the attempt at image makeover will not appeal to many as convincing. Maya Kodnani was a minister in the Modi government even when she faced serious charges. The government had supported her and the other accused during the time of investigation and trial. The sudden realisation of their guilt and the move to seek stronger punishment for them will be considered opportunistic and even treacherous in some quarters. The credibility of a leader who is willing to sacrifice his supporters in order to promote his personal interests is bound to be questioned. On the other side, the secular image being projected will also be dismissed as sham.  Modi might end up alienating at least a section of the Sangh parivar following without getting value in return in terms of a secular image. Delayed raj dharma is alloyed raj dharma.

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Published 19 April 2013, 16:49 IST

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