Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has regularly rubbished and done Prime Minister Manmohan Singh down in the most unfair way possible. You would find a barrage of taunts against the prime minister in almost all speeches Modi has made, so much so you would wonder if all his abuses come on automatic pilot.
Manmohan Singh has, however, not bothered to respond to the vilifying modus operandi of Modi except at the recent and perhaps the last press conference he has addressed before handing over the prime ministerial baton to a new PM.
To Modi's refrain that Singh has been an "ineffectual" and "weak" prime minister the latter replied that he didn't think the strength of a person in presiding over a "mass massacre" in the streets is the quality that our nation requires of a future prime minister. He added that Modi as the next prime minister would be a recipe for disaster.
The 2002 carnage that killed over 1,000 people, mostly Muslim, has been considered one of the most shameful episodes in the history of India. That it took place under the watch of Narendra Modi is something which he cannot live down, even if he protests otherwise.
Two reasons: One, the hurt that inflected on the nation's psyche is so deep that it cannot be erased so easily. Two, the pong of such a diabolic episode of epic proportions has spread to the entire world, something which has demeaned our nation deeply. The prime minister's riposte has touched a raw nerve with Modi. This has come at a time when Modi is trying to shuck off the riots stigma by attempting to soften his Hindutwa credentials in a bid to cultivate a national image.
Surely, the PM's salvo has hit Modi where it hurts most. And which is why it has caused an outrage in the BJP camp.
Modi and his party, no doubt, have a stock reply: that his back-to-back victories in Gujarat elections prove that he is innocent. Besides, they say, he has come out unscathed from court battles on the riot cases. First, the majority cannot be said to be infallible; it can go wrong.
Besides, an election is fought on several issues. Second, the court cannot pronounce anybody guilty unless it has ample evidence. If key evidence is suppressed or evidential material destroyed, the court would have no alternative but to reject the plaint. It doesn't, therefore, mean the defendant has not committed the crime. In any case, who can say that the long arm of the law will not catch up with Modi someday?
The riots saga has several cases which could crop up off and on and repeatedly with more and more revelations in the future — the Ishrat Jahan case, the Best Bakery case, the Gulbarg Society case, to name a few. We all know that sometimes the wheels of justice grind slowly.
At issue is therefore whether a person carrying a massacre baggage with him is fit to lead a nation aspiring to be a super power. No doubt, the BJP die-hards will vote for Modi. But the fence-sitters or what we call amorphous voters would think twice before plumping for a divisive person with an unedifying past.
The latest to haunt Modi is what is termed the Snoopgate. Here, the allegation is that the Gujarat state machinery has been snooping on a lady architect for quite sometime. The matter has figured on two websites, Gulail and Cobra Post. BJP has been brandishing a letter purportedly written by the lady's father saying that the state's snooping on her was because he had requested Modi for it. One, nobody has verified whether it was her father who wrote the letter. Two, why should her father respond to the allegation when the lady who is an adult with a family could very well do that. Three, nobody knows if the letter was penned under threat.
And four, it is hard to believe that the state machinery would snoop on a commoner, even if under request. A suspended IAS officer, Pradeep Sharma, has vowed he would move the court as the police refused to register an FIR against Modi and his aide Amit Shah on this issue.
The question therefore is whether Modi is the right person who can translate the people's anger towards the UPA government into votes in the forthcoming elections. With AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal also likely to be in the prime ministerial fray, the BJP strategists may have to think up new ways to ignite the electorate's imagination to capture power at the centre.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.