'Apology will mean admission of guilt'

For Narendra Modi, the 2014 battle for ballots could be the fiercest and he is using all arrows from his quiver -- be it social media, rallies or the blog. A blot on his career, the Gujarat riots, is the one incident he would try to shrug it off though he himself recognises that it will stay with him the whole life. Post the December 27 blog on his “grief, sadness, misery, pain, anguish, agony” on the 2002 riots, Shemin Joy of Deccan Herald spoke to senior journalist and political commentator Ashok Malik. Excerpts: 

What makes Modi write a blog with a change in tone compared to the assertive tones or refusal to apologise earlier? Has it been timed for the elections?

This is the most open admission of regret or some sort of regret. I think, initially he was stubborn about it but in the recent years, probably he was looking for an opportunity to tell his side of the story. One has to see the blog in the context of the court verdict. I guess he realised that this is the best moment to come up with a statement of this sort. Without the verdict, this blog does not make any sense. 
Cleverly drafted and well-timed statement but not even remotely admitting guilt. How is this blog going to help Modi reshape his image? 

One has to distinguish between criminal and political allegations. When it comes to hard criminal allegations against Modi, frankly none of them in a court of law has sustained. When it comes to political rhetoric, certainly in 2003-04, the rhetoric used (by Modi) in the Gujarat Assembly elections was disturbing. Is Modi’s rhetoric different from that now? Yes, it is. Has it evolved gradually? Yes. What has helped him in the past two years? It is not so much Modi evolution but UPA’s collapse. As the UPA lost lustre, the conversation around Modi has changed. More people, perhaps, are willing to look at Modi in a context other than that of 2002. The court judgment and the blog will probably help him, that is what Modi thinks. An apology from Modi would amount to admission of guilt. His argument has been that ‘I was not responsible and it was a huge outburst, which I tried to control to the best of my ability, but I could not do it completely. What he expressed in this blog is a regret of sorts, you will get more than this (from Modi).’ 
Last few years, Modi has been desperately trying to change his image. How successful is he in his bid to propel himself as the future Prime Minister? 

To become a Prime Minister in these times, you have to be a coalition builder. In that sense, his image of 2002 has to be changed. He has to work on it. What is being tested in this election is, Modi feels, is not his political vision but his administrative capacity and his ability to fix the economy. More than identity politics or communal image, his gamble in the elections is going to be his personal narrative of rising to this level from a humble background and the politics of growth and aspirations. 
There is an argument that Modi has peaked early, has lost momentum and has become repetitive. 

I do not buy the argument that he has peaked early. Like journalists and commentators, people do not read all newspapers and watch all speeches. Far from peaking too early, my fear is he may have started it too late.  It takes two-three years for the country to get to know you. Modi had just about one year. When you say that his speeches are not being watched as much, you have a point. In the recent months, they have become repetitive. Attacking the Congress is fine but he has to go beyond that. He has to give certain degree of big picture thinking, positive messages. It is fine to tell that the Congress is bad but December elections have shown that people know that. He has to move up from this just another angry politician.  

Until now, the fight was perceived to be between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. With the Aam Admi Party (AAP) victory in elections, there is a talk that it may cut into Modi votes in urban areas. 

The AAP is predominantly an urban party and these are seats won by the Congress in 2009, which the BJP wants to win this time. If the AAP cuts into Modi’s votes, not necessarily win seats, then it will have a dramatic impact on elections. If the AAP spoils, say in 30 Modi seats, then the party can make a huge difference. After his success in Delhi, no one will take Arvind Kejriwal lightly. One lesson Modi has to learn from Kejriwal is candidate selection. Lot of Kejriwal’s candidates were 

unknown people who took on and defeated well-known people. Delhi voters did not know their candidates and they 

voted for them because of Kejriwal and AAP. This means unknown candidates were preferred than candidates with baggage. This is something which Modi will have to keep in mind while selecting candidates.  

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