“He wouldn’t rest till he had got even.” (book excerpt)


IMAGE/Duck Duck Go/Quora

The following is an extract from Indian journalist Karan Thapar’s book Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story, published recently by HarperCollins India. It is a recounting by the author of his 2007 interview with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, in an effort to understand why the author and his television show has been boycotted by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party since 2016, some nine years after the event, and provides a fascinating look into the psyche of India’s leader. The extract is being published in Eos with express permission of the author and the publishers.

The interview was arranged for an October afternoon in Ahmedabad and I arrived by the early morning flight. It was the morning after Benazir Bhutto’s dramatic return to Karachi after years in exile and the terrible bomb blast that had shattered her procession, leaving hundreds dead. That, rather than the interview that was scheduled for later in the day, was at the top of my mind when the plane touched down in Ahmedabad.

I had just about got into the car and we were still within the airport’s perimeter when my phone rang. “Karan-ji, pahunch gaye?” It was Narendra Modi ringing to welcome me. This was the first sign of how careful he is about handling the media.

“Apna interview toh char baje hain lekin thoda pahle aana, gup-shup karenge (Our interview is at 4 but come a little early, let’s chat).” Everything about his manner seemed to reassure me that Narendra Modi had either not read or forgotten about the column I wrote in 2002. He greeted me warmly and chatted as if I was an old friend. We didn’t bring up any subject that the interview was likely to cover. Instead, we bantered, laughed and joked.

I wasn’t sure if this was meant to disarm me. Canny politicians often resort to such guile. But certainly, any apprehensions I may have had quickly disappeared.

Half an hour later, we sat down in front of the cameras. Mr Modi was wearing a pale yellow kurta. His hair was freshly cut. My first set of questions [was] about 2002. My intention was to get this tricky subject over with and then proceed to other matters. Not to have raised it at all would have looked like collusion or pusillanimity. Equally, however, I didn’t want to make a meal of it. Hence, the decision to raise it and get it out of the way quickly.

“Mr Modi, let’s start by talking about you,” is how I began. “In the six years that you have been the chief minister of Gujarat, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has declared Gujarat to be the best administered state. India Today, on two separate occasions, has declared that you are the most efficient chief minister. And yet despite that, people still call you to your face a mass murderer and they accuse you of being prejudiced against Muslims. Do you have an image problem?”

He didn’t seem at all flustered. I didn’t notice any emotion on his face. Not even a change in his expression. It remained placid and unaffected. However, what did surprise me was that he chose to respond in English. Although today his command of the language is near-fluent, in 2007 it was not.

“I think it’s not proper to say that ‘people’. There are two or three persons, those who used to talk in this terminology and I always say God bless them.”

“You are saying this is a conspiracy of two-three people only?”

“I have not said so.”

“But you are saying it’s only two-three people.”

“This is what I have information. It’s not the people’s voice.”

The truth is that the chief minister wasn’t right in saying that only two or three people had spoken about him in this way. The judges of the Supreme Court of India, including the chief justice, had made observations in open court that amounted to precisely this. So I proceeded to question him on that.

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