New Delhi: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), broke nearly 12 years of silence on Friday by expressing his anguish over the riots that engulfed the state in 2002.
One day after a Gujarat lower court cleared him of a complicit role in the riots that left some 1,000 people dead, Modi wrote on his official blog that “the mindless violence of 2002” had left him “shaken to the core”.
Some analysts said the statement, which came as a surprise, could be an attempt by Modi to seek closure over the riots, with which his alleged association continues to be a political liability.
It could potentially also make it easier for the prime ministerial aspirant to reach out to sceptics—individuals as well as political parties.
“Grief, sadness, misery, pain, anguish, agony—mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity,” Modi wrote.
“In decisively confronting this great turmoil, I had to single-mindedly focus all the strength given to me by the almighty, on the task of peace, justice and rehabilitation; burying the pain and agony I was personally wracked with.”
On Thursday, an Ahmedabad metropolitan court upheld the clean chit given to Modi by a Supreme Court-appointed special investigating team (SIT) in a case related to the riots, saying there was no “prosecutable evidence” to initiate a case against Modi and others. The court ruled on a writ petition that wanted the report to be set aside.
Modi and his state government have been accused of not doing enough to contain the riots that broke out in Gujarat after a mob torched a train coach carrying mainly Hindu pilgrims on 27 February 2002 in the town of Godhra.
“I have only one earnest prayer to God. That never again should such cruelly unfortunate days come in the lives of any other person, society, state or nation,” Modi wrote in a blog titled “Satyameva Jayate: Truth Alone Triumphs”. He added that he had to go through “inner turmoil and shock of being blamed” for the death and misery of those affected in the riots.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who held a press conference at his party headquarters on Friday to brief the media about his meeting with Congress chief ministers, dodged a question on his reaction to Modi’s blog post.
Within the Congress there is pressure, especially from among the younger leaders, to declare Gandhi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate and turn the 2014 general election into a Gandhi vs. Modi face-off.
“The reason that he (Modi) has gone public on this is that he realizes that as he is coming on the national scene, he has to make certain statements,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro vice-chancellor of Bangalore-based Jain University.
“He has gone to the extent to which his self-constructed image allows him to go. He has not apologized but only expressed regret,” Shastri added.
The BJP bested the Congress in recent state assembly elections, wresting back Rajasthan, emerging as the single largest bloc in the Delhi assembly, and retaining power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Modi spearheaded the party’s campaign in the four states.
Experts said Modi’s blog post may enhance the BJP’s prospects of finding alliance partners and help refurbish his image abroad.
“Most of those who have aligned with the BJP have already made up their mind, like the Telugu Desam Party, and this could bolster their arguments,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst. “The use of emotive words and adjectives is to build Modi’s stature as a statesman and it is more important keeping in mind the international audience.”
Modi also addressed a section of his critics in his blog post.
“What pained even more was that in their overzealousness to hit at me for their narrow personal and political ends, they ended up maligning my entire state and country. This heartlessly kept reopening the wounds that we were sincerely trying to heal,” he said.
Experts noted the timing of the emotional blog post just a few months before the general election.
“Moving to a national stage, Modi cannot be silent on such an issue,” Shastri said. “He is hoping for closure on the issue, but in politics, there is never closure. His opponents will rake it up whenever it is needed.”