M J Akbar interviewed by Rajdeep Sardesai
Publication: Video at IBN
Date: March 24, 2014.
Noted journalist MJ Akbar, who was once a strong critic of Bharatiya Janata Party Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is now a part of his party and is backing him. On March 24, 2014, IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai questioned Akbar about his U-turn on Modi and the BJP. The video is available at:
URL : http://ibnlive.in.com/news/modis-patna-speech-even-after-blasts-changed-my-opinion-mj-akbar/459847-37-64.html
It is 27 minutes in duration. Enclosed here is a transcript of the interview.
Rajdeep Sardesai: In 2002 you virtually compared Modi to Hitler. You wrote, “In Hitler’s case the enemy was the Jew, in Modi’s case the enemy is the Muslim. Such a politician is not a fool. In fact, he may have a high degree of intellect but it is an intellect unleavened by reason and untempered by humanism. How do you justify the flip flop?
MJAkbar: All of us during the riots, you included, raised these questions. There was the heat of the riots. There was violence in front of us. Paradoxically, the answer to these questions has been given to us by 10 years of the UPA government. The most intense scrutiny possible, the most intense scrutiny that I have ever witnessed against any politician, has been done by the Congress government against Modi. Every relevant instrument of state was assigned the task of finding something, anything that could trace guilt to Modi. All the possible attempts were made to link the riots to him personally. They could not. The Supreme Court undertook its own enquiries. All their efforts have failed.
RS: Are you today giving Modi a clean chit? The fact remains that more than a thousand people died in the riot. And Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
MJA: There have been riots—many, many riots before that. You want me to list Nellie,
1992-93, you want me to list 1984, later riots in Bombay. We have seen, covered riots as journalists all our lives. There are other years as well when riots rocked India's soul but how many other leaders had to undergo the same scrutiny like Modi?
The most intense scrutiny has been done by the Congress government. Congress scrutiny I repeat. If it had been done by the party Modi belonged, you would have challenged the credibility of the scrutiny. The Congress's efforts to put Modi under scrutiny have gone in vain.
RS: Are you trying to say you were mistaken?
MJA: Yes, we were mistaken in putting the personal linkages. I do not think we have a right as journalists to claim all knowledge of the truth. We have been proven wrong. We should have ability to accept the fact.
RS: Do you believe that Modi was a subject of a witchhunt. Were editors like you mistaken in putting up editorials like ‘Nishan- e- Pakistan’?
MJA: Modi faced the most intense scrutiny from every organ of the state and society, and still they could not nail guilt to his door. If, after 10 years of Congress scrutiny, there has been no linkage of Modi to Gujarat riots, we have to change our view. There were riots in Gujarat but Supreme Court has given clean-chit to Modi. The CBI and state police have not found anything against Modi, who are we to keep calling them sinners? We should have the honesty to accept this.
RS: Are you saying that whatever you wrote earlier against the party is history now?
MJA: One of the great changes that have taken place is the fact that governance has now risen within last ten years to the very top of BJP’s agenda and the national voter's agenda. One of the remarkable achievements of governance that we have seen is the governance in Gujarat. That has convinced me of joining the BJP. One of the moving, great point at which my mind was influenced was Modi’s Patliputra rally. Modi's Patna address after the serial blasts changed my opinion.
The bombs that began to burst at Narendra Modi's Patliputra rally were aimed at the crowds, of course, but also at him. At that moment Modi had the ability or opportunity to go emotional. Instead he was clear, practical, clearly focused and determined to pursue an economic vision. He said--Hindus have an option-- either they can fight Muslims or they can fight poverty. Muslims have an option --either they can fight Hindus or they can fight poverty.
He asked a powerful question to both Hindus and Muslims that went to the crux of the principal challenge before our nation, and included its solution for the future of the nation. These two great communities of India have to work together for the development of the nation. For the last ten years we have watched. I have watched Indian Muslims in ten years becoming impoverished far more. Nothing has been done for them.
RS: You did not answer where I started off. Do you agree with the RSS’ core Hindutva agenda?
MJA: I am looking at what I have heard. What I have heard at the Patna rally. I have heard that in a speech on August 15 last year, Narendra Modi said that the only religion of a person in public life was the Constitution of India. That is for me a sufficient definition. I have seen both the party as well as the document that has been produced on Moditva and I don’t believe the party is now at odds with the RSS on these issues. The agenda opens with this sentence: that India is a secular nation. The essence of secularism means is that all religions are equal before the law. It asserted that sarva darma sambhav was the philosophical magnet that united India from an ancient age.
We must understand the discourse that is taking place today. I read the definitions that are being offered today. The definitions are that of inclusiveness and development. I have to look at my nation at this point of time. Mahatma Gandhi also said ram rajya and he was called communal.
The question is-- are we going to have our eyes permanently stuck at the back of our heads or are we going to have eyes that look towards the future in front of our heads. This is the opportunity for us…there must be development for everyone. The real opportunity before us is to create a future in which development travels to every section of India, to every Indian. Muslims are as nationalists as any other community in India. They have to be lifted through development out of poverty and from the politics of fear.
RS: You are making strong points. But why Modi has not yet visited certain riot hit areas of Gujarat if he was truly inclusive in his approach? Many would say that BJP has to walk the talk. What do you feel about the scarce distribution of tickets among Muslims in the BJP?
MJA: Change is an evolutionary process in human affairs. Parties look at winnability also. We must look at the positives. I would like to look at the positives. And that has persuaded me to take this step. I do know that we are moving towards inclusive governance and we are moving towards inclusive development. The nation walks fastest when it walks together. And I am happy to join anyone that would take India forward.
Development need not just be wiping away tears of the Muslims. The best way to wipe tears is to wipe out hunger from the Muslim community. It isn't the easiest thing in the world for a Muslim to join hands with Modi. But I'm not troubled. I think this person can deliver to help the Muslim community as much as the Hindu community in the country.
The amount of development has gone on largely evenly in Gujarat. There is a growing Muslim vote for Narendra Modi in Gujarat. We have to see that this process continues and grows further.
RS: You wrote a formidable biography on Nehru. You were a great admirer of Nehru. Are you now moving away from Nehruvian philosophy? Would Nehru approve of Modi brand of secularism?”
MJA: Modi was just 12-13-years-old when Nehru died and hence it was not possible for him to give an opinion on him. These are all theoretical questions.
RS: What do you have to say about people who say that you are an opportunist or a careerist? You were with Rajiv Gandhi when the going was good in the eighties and now…
MJA: You have got your history a little askew. In 1989 Rajiv Gandhi was losing, so it is not as you put it. I'm not an opportunist. The BJP is the only party that could wipe out poverty and put India back on the path of development. It is the time to give Modi a chance and see what happens.
RS: Was it a troubling process as an Indian Muslim to join Modi?
MJA: These things don’t trouble me.
RS: So, it is not opportunism but realism?
MJA: No, no… I think he is going to help everyone. He is going to help the community
of the poor. I joined BJP because I think it can deliver on economy. Does a potato have a religion? Does an onion have religion? We need to bring prices down for everyone. I believe in the religion of poor.
RS: What about trust? Do Muslims trust him? Yes it is true that the Congress has also used Muslims…but the BJP has also used vote bank politics to create a Hindu vote bank…that is also a reality...the politics of fear and Muslims as enemy.
MJA: That is why we have to move away from both.
RS: Do you think that Modi..
MJA: I think we are forming judgements on issues. We should see what he has asked. Madhu Kishwar has done a lot of work and studied the riots. Let us find the future, Rajdeep…this is the moment we can really, really find the future…that was the theme of my piece in ET.”
RS: So are you saying chodo kalki batein…kalki baat purani.
MJA: Yes, but you must complete that song…naye daur ki nayi kahani.
RS: Some could say that you were using the media platform to put out your biases. What you have given up your credibility for political opportunism.
MJA: The column of mine that you refer to in the Times Of India…Times of India has lots of tough editors…I wasn’t the editor of my own pieces…I am sure if they had smelt something, if they thought I was using the column…In 1989 when I joined politics also I left editing…this time too I discontinued the column.
RS: Why are you doing this? Is it to write a great book on your transformation on yourself or Modi or for a Rajya Sabha seat?
MJA: Writing a book is much more interesting but not about myself. As for being in parliament, I have no such hankering. I have been there done that. It doesn’t excite me as a Holy Grail action.
RS: Why have you done this then?
MJA: You may think that I am sermonising…I really, really do believe that by joining an economic development that I can do...the poor and large number of Muslims…I really really feel very strongly.
RS: Rather than faith in Modi is your frustration with the Congress that has led to this stand?
MJA: If that is your analysis then I am one among the many crores of people in India who feel that way. You cannot really indulge in the politics of ineptitude, politics of fear.
RS: Is the answer then muscular authoritarianism as represented by Modi.
MJA: The answer is rather muscular good government. We need peace in our country as an absolute fundamental necessity. The primary purpose of economic growth is to lift the poorest from their awful misery; and this can best be achieved only when every Indian, across differences of creed and caste, works hand in hand. We need a Prime Minister who has a voice, clear agenda, a prime minister who says we need a 100 cities...imagine India with 100 cities? Isn’t that something to dream about where employment is generated?
I do feel that the opportunity has come. By joining an economic development platform I can do little that I can to ensure that this development goes to all sections of society. Among those poor are a large number of Muslims who have been completely left languished in poverty.