Narendra Modi, why shoot yourself in the foot?
I’m talking about:
- The village elders who consider themselves the law, declaring that Indian girls should marry young to avoid getting raped.
- Their comment that Chinese food (i.e. chowmein) inflames the passions and leads to rape. I have, however, not given up my favourite stir-fried noodles.
- Cabinet minister Salman Khurshid challenging anti-corruption campaigner and political novice Arvind Kejriwal, calling him an ant trying to take on an elephant.
And on it goes. But, on Tuesday, Narendra Modi did get my attention.
As a recent Reuters interview story describes him, he is the man of the moment. He is a strong contender to become India’s prime minister, if the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) comes to power in the next general elections.
Clearly, expectations are high for Modi, who has gained a lot of ground despite his image being tarnished by the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Here is what Modi said while campaigning for state assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh: “Wah kya girlfriend hai. Apne kabhi dekha hai 50 crore ka girlfriend? (What a girlfriend! Have you ever seen a girlfriend worth 500 million?)” in an apparent dig at Congress minister Shashi Tharoor and then-friend-now-wife Sunanda Pushkar.
Modi was hinting at the 2010 controversy that forced Tharoor to resign as minister after being accused of using political muscle to influence IPL team bids.
The women I work with say Modi’s comment was “absurd” and “stupid”. I won’t get into the specifics of whether his comment hurt women in a country with a lot of sensitive feelings waiting to be hurt, but such an attack on a fellow politician is best avoided by a man who many view as the next prime minister.
I was not a journalist at the time of the Gujarat riots, so my opinion of him is not yet clouded by the accusations of genocide against him. But there are instances such as his alleged refusal to accept a skull cap from a Muslim cleric last year that force me to wonder if he is suited to be the prime minister of a secular country.
Modi has proved he has the qualities of a leader — evident from poll vote projections that show he is still popular in Gujarat and may easily win a fourth term as state chief minister.
But to win over India, he needs to watch his words.
(You can follow Aditya on Twitter at @adityayk)