In a feeble attempt to avoid any kind of association with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the Samajwadi Party is insisting it has nothing to do with Shahid Siddiqui, who interviewed the BJP leader for his Urdu newspaper Nai Duniya. The SP’s desire to distance itself from Mr. Modi, on whose watch the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat took place, is understandable, but not its effort to disown Mr. Siddiqui, who rejoined the party in January 2012. In appearing to castigate an editor for running an interview, the SP is betraying not just intolerance but a certain insecurity about its own support base. The Backward Classes and Muslims have long been the backbone of the SP vote bank in Uttar Pradesh. In the interview, Mr. Modi, who refused to apologise for the 2002 riots, said he should be “hanged in public” to serve as a lesson for others if his government had a role in the violence. The Gujarat CM’s remarks in the Urdu daily were targeted at a Muslim readership, and the SP may be worried by the political consequences of the interview. However, distancing itself from Mr. Siddiqui in this reflexive manner does the SP no credit. Muslim voters have stayed with the party despite the alignments it has forged in the past with saffron stalwarts like Kalyan Singh and Sakshi Maharaj. Mr. Modi of course would be a bridge too far, but one interview by Mr. Siddiqui in which the Gujarat Chief Minister does not exactly emerge in flying colours is hardly likely to alienate the SP’s canny support base.
The political immaturity of the SP, however, should not detract from Mr. Modi’s studied refusal to show remorse for the riots, and his deviousness in displaying an air of injured innocence. Leaving aside the question of his role in orchestrating the riots — the courts have yet to take a final call on this — it is very convenient for him to say “hang-me-if-I-am-guilty” when he has done scant little as Chief Minister to ensure speedy justice to the Muslim victims of the 2002 killings. Indeed, without the intervention of the Supreme Court, all of the major riot cases would have ended in acquittals. Clearly, Mr. Modi is attempting an image makeover. But words floating in the air without any organic link to actions can only have a limited, temporary impact. Nothing that he says is going to change his unacceptability as a prime ministerial candidate for the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance. Mr. Siddiqui’s political career has been a chequered one and is unlikely to suffer permanent damage as a result of this latest controversy. Mr. Modi, on the other hand, believes his star is in the ascendant. If only he knew that all the perfumed interviews of Arabia will not sweeten his political hand.