New Delhi: Narendra Modi has, in a rare interview, defended his actions during the 2002 Gujarat riots, asserting that "we used our full strength to set out to do the right thing." Already, there is political outcry.
Talking exclusively to news agency Reuters, Mr Modi said, "The Supreme Court created a special investigative team (SIT) and top-most, very bright officers who oversee the SIT. That report came. In that report, I was given a thoroughly clean chit, a thoroughly clean chit." (Read the full interview here)
The Gujarat Chief Minister, seen by many in his party the BJP as a potential candidate for Prime Minister, is accused by political rivals of not doing enough to prevent the communal riots of 2002, in which hundreds of Muslims were killed under his watch.
To a direct question on whether he thought he had done the right thing in 2002, Mr Modi said, "Absolutely. However much brainpower the Supreme Being has given us, however much experience I've got, and whatever I had available in that situation and this is what the SIT had investigated."
Asked if he regretted what had happened in 2002, Mr Modi used an analogy that has in the few hours since the interview was published, become a huge controversy. Mr Modi said, "If we are driving a car, we are a driver, and someone else is driving a car and we're sitting behind, even then if a puppy (kutte ka bachcha) comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is. If I'm a chief minister or not, I'm a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad." (Read: Modi's 'puppy' analogy sparks political storm)
Rival parties have slammed Mr Modi. Kamal Farooqi of the Samajwadi Party said, "Is this patriotism? When you become a Chief Minister, you take an oath, to protect your people. You are worried about a puppy. But you didn't ever apologise for the mass killings. It is very sad, very disturbing... What does he (Modi) think, that Muslims are worse than even puppies?" Mr Farooqui sought an apology from Mr Modi. (Read: Who said what)
After the furore over his "puppy" analogy, Mr Modi tweeted, "In our culture every form of life is valued & worshipped... People are best judge." (Read)
The BJP defended Mr Modi's remark, with spokesperson Nirmala Sithraman saying, "This is a complete misinterpretation leading to unwanted breaking up of a controversy which doesn't exist. I appeal to all to read the interview fully and understand it before getting your retorts ready."
Other portions of the interview are also fast becoming controversial. Like Mr Modi saying, "I'm nationalist. I'm patriotic... I'm a born Hindu.... So, yes, you can say I'm a Hindu nationalist."
Central minister and Congressman Salman Khurshid said, "Modi has a poor impression about the Indian people, to be a Hindu nationalist is an oxymoron. Religion can't have nation."
And Shivanand Tiwari of the Janata Dal (United) commented, "What was Modi's necessity to make such a statement?" The Janata Dal United recently severed ties with ally BJP in response to Mr Modi's elevation in his party. The party questions Mr Modi's secular credentials. (Buzz on Twitter)
In today's interview, Mr Modi deflected a question on whether India should have a secular leader, saying, "For me, my secularism is, India first."
He also said he welcomed criticism. "The strength of democracy lies in criticism. If there is no criticism that means there is no democracy. And if you want to grow, you must invite criticism. And I want to grow," said Mr Modi.