No love in this affair
For a man who nurses ambitions to play a role in India’s national politics, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has again shown us just how low he can stoop to target a political opponent.
Speaking at an election rally in Shimla last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, campaigning for his party in the elections to the Himachal Pradesh Assembly, picked on Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and said his wife Sunanda Pushkar was once Tharoor’s “50 crore girlfriend”.
Modi, who, as chief minister of Gujarat, did little to prevent the slaughter of hundreds of Muslims in 2002, and is a contender for continuing in the job in the coming elections, fancies himself as a strong man and his choice of words often displays his inner core.
The ongoing efforts to repackage him as a leader acceptable to a wider group of Indians (he’s been winning election after election after the Gujarat killings) came a cropper in Shimla.
Quite apart from making an unfair attack on Tharoor’s personal life, Modi showed utter contempt for nearly half the Indian electorate – the country’s women – when he described Sunanda Pushkar in the terms he used.
Tharoor, a former United Nations under-secretary general for public affairs, minced no words as he gave it back to Modi on Twitter.
“My wife is worth a lot more than your imaginary 50 crores. She is priceless. But you need2be able2love some1 2understand that,” Tharoor tweeted.
This wasn’t the end of the exchange. It led to others jumping into the fray, hardly raising the level of political discourse that’s so badly needed in Indian politics.
Wading into the controversy, BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi described Tharoor as an international love guru for whom a ministry of love affairs should be created.
Not to be outdone, Tharoor responded, again on Twitter: “Better to be Minister of Love than Chief Minister of Hate.”
On her part, Sunanda Pushkar said in an interview that if a woman was independent and fairly decent looking she gets “flagged”.
“I would like to tell him [Modi] that why don’t you take on people who you should be taking on to win an election. I would like to tell him to respect women. I had noticed previously that he likes to take pot shots at women. Isn’t the BJP leader in Lok Sabha a woman? I would appeal to all the women in BJP to get together and ask Modi why he is attacking women?” she said in the interview.
But the Congress leader Digvijay Singh came down to the personal level, asking Modi to reveal the name of his wife, “Why is Modi silent about his wife’s name? If you can visit YouTube and search Narendra Modi’s wife, you will find the name Yashoda Ben as his wife.”
In politics, one often gets unfairly targeted. That’s the way the game is played.
But, if you want to be taken as a serious political leader then you can’t go around making the remarks about Sunanda Pushkar that Modi did.
Like in the politics of other countries, there are many personal skeletons that political leaders in India might want to hide.
If these skeletons impinge on their politics or probity, then by all means let’s expose them and place them smack in the public eye.
But if a woman or a man wants to marry a second time, or take a boyfriend or girlfriend, Modi, or others like him, cannot stand on moral judgment on such personal issues.
The strongman of Gujarat was probably trying to appeal to the baser sentiments of the election crowd at his Shimla rally. But his comments seem to have badly backfired.
Modi’s remarks in Shimla point to yet another serious lacuna in his CV.
He remains unfit to take on a larger role in India’s national politics.
Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.