At one end, India is one of the proudest secular countries in the world. At the other end of the spectrum is the horrifyingly tragic communal rioting that takes place frequently.
Take a look at the cases from 1980 onwards…
In 1980, the Moradabad riots claimed an estimated 1500 victims. In 1983 in Nellie in Assam, the toll was in the thousands. In 1989 in rioting in Bhagalpur, more than a 1000 were killed. The Mumbai riots of 1992-93 also saw the toll crossing 1000.
Now a quick question: Who were the chief ministers of these states at the time of the rioting? You could be forgiven for not knowing any of them.
Incidentally, most of them were from the Congress and they just moved on with their political lives.
There are the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 that may have seen up to 3000 dead and more than 50,000 displaced. The Congress leaders accused of leading the rioters were rewarded with plum posts and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made the infamous statement: 'When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.' Insensitiveness personified.
Rajiv also shook that incident and moved on without him being troubled by it till the end of his life.
Now let’s come to Godhra: The moment you say it, 10/10 people think of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He has been hounded by the entire press. He has been called a Hitler and a mass murderer and has been accused of genocide even though there have been bigger riots. This regardless of the fact that one-fourth of those killed were Hindus.
Another paradoxical fact is that while most criminals get away scot free after most riots, Godhra has one of the highest conviction rates, so much so that sections of the RSS have even labelled Modi as anti-Hindu.
International governments like the US boycotted him and he was even denied a visa to go there.
So the question is: When there have been greater riots than Godhra, why has there been such a long-sustained campaign against Modi?
One reason is that it was the BJP in power. Most of the other riots had taken place in Congress ruled states and they could be forgiven because the Congress is a secular party. The BJP is communal on the other hand and hence cannot get the same treatment.
The second fact is that this was the first major riot that happened in the era of live TV. While other riots were mere statistics, this one was seen by the whole nation 24X7.
The final reason is that while the media is generally left leaning, here was a first major riot perpetrated directly by someone of the far right and therefore had to be gone after hammer and tongs.
At that time Prime Minister AB Vajpayee had expressed his intention for Modi to step down and the entire media was cent per cent sure that it would happen. When it didn’t, the entire media felt hugely let down.
That was the beginning of a decade long campaign against Modi. Most of the media was sure that Modi would be voted out of power in 2002 and then again in 2007. Some opinion polls had never been so off the mark.
But the question is, had the media just left Modi alone, would he have been such a big national figure as he is today?
In the sense that the more his detractors attacked him, the more people started to come to his defence.
The more his detractors demonized him, the more his supporters lionised him.
When his detractors insisted that he shouldn’t be the Chief Minister of Gujarat, his supporters upped the stakes and said that he should be the Prime Minister of India instead!
The word “Development” was bandied about to describe Modi. The more his detractors cried Godhra, the more his supporters cried development.
The more his detractors came out with statistics about the Godhra riots, the more his supporters distributed statistics about Gujarat’s development.
“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” is a statement attributed to Modi but never said by him. But that could be equally true about his whole post-Godhra persona. For all the brickbats he got from one corner, he received an equal number of bouquets from another.
Consider the facts. Gujarat was already a prosperous state before Modi took over. He has just made it more prosperous.
On the other hand look at Bihar. It was at the absolute pits when Nitish Kumar took over and look at it now. It is one of the most stunning turnarounds in the history of Independent India.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh has also been doing a fairly decent job but not many in India can even recall his name. Sushma Swaraj has been a fiery Lok Sabha Opposition leader and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley is one of the best orators around.
And yet the general public and opinion polls do not look beyond Modi. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi was at her peak. In 2009, Manmohan Singh ruled the roost. Thereafter briefly Rahul Gandhi emerged as a popular choice. But today Modi leads in almost all opinion polls. In cyberspace, he has been anointed PM already.
The fact is that this is the second great polarization that the BJP has seen. Ayodhya in the early 1990s was the first and that led to the BJP eventually coming to power at the Centre.
The second is Modi.
All that humongous Modi-bashing has led to his emerging as the leading Prime Ministerial candidate. He is just 62 and has a good 10-15 years ahead of him to realize his ambition.
It is one of the paradoxes of Indian politics that all the English TV news channels together have just ended up boosting their biggest enemy and making him larger than life rather than destroying him!
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