In the April issue of The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan has written an informative and sometimes chilling profile of Narendra Modi, chief minister of the northwestern state of Gujarat. Modi is important because of his increasing influence within the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and allegations that he helped encourage Hindu riots against Muslims in 2002.
What local human-rights groups label the "pogrom" began with the incineration of 58 Hindu train passengers on February 27, 2002, in Godhra, a town with a large Muslim population and a stop on the rail journey from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh, in north-central India. The Muslims who reportedly started the fire had apparently been taunted by other Hindus who had passed through en route to Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh, on their way to demonstrate for a Hindu temple to be built on the site of a demolished Mughal mosque. Recently installed as chief minister, Modi decreed February 28 a day of mourning, so that the passengers' funerals could be held in downtown Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city. "It was a clear invitation to violence," writes Edward Luce, the Financial Times correspondent in India, in his book, In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India. "The Muslim quarters of Ahmedabad and other cities in Gujarat turned into death traps as thousands of Hindu militants converged on them." In the midst of the riots, Modi approvingly quoted Newton's third law: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction."
Kaplan is impressed with Modi's skills as a politician, his reputation for financial integrity and his efforts to bring rapid development to Gujarat. Still, he recognizes the importance of what Modi says by leaving certain things unspoken:
Modi spoke to me in clipped, to-the-point phrases, with a didactic tone, about the cosmopolitan trading history of Gujarat going back 5,000 years, and how Parsis and others had come to its shores and been assimilated into the Hindu culture. I asked him about the contribution of the Muslims, who make up 11 percent of the state's population. "We are a spiritual, god-fearing people," he answered. "We are by and large vegetarians. Jainism and Buddhism impacted us positively. We want to create a Buddhist temple here to honor Buddha's remains." He then prompted me for my next question. He had nothing further to say. His terse responses spoke volumes: Muslims, of course, are meat-eaters.