Asthana, April 25: Newt Gingrich, an influential US politician and a former speaker of the House of Representatives, has advised Narendra Modi, the man opinion polls say could become India’s next prime minister, to tone down his image as a Hindu hardliner and said he “should not be seen (by the world) as a great divider” but “as a great moderniser”.
“Hindu politics should be on back burner if Modi wants a global appeal,” Newt Gingrich told IANS here on the sidelines of the 12th Eurasian Media Conference in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan.
Gingrich said Modi, who portrays himself as a champion of economic development and good governance, must find a way to connect ties between Hindus and Muslims.
“He wants to be the man in charge, he will be judged how he handles two of India’s biggest communities. He will be judged how he handles Sikhs and Christians,” Gingrich said.
“If the community blending happens, then – probably – he will get the clean chit he seeks. Till then, he will be on trial,” said Gingrich.
The veteran politician, who was once a presidential aspirant and is now a permanent panelist on the revamped CNN show Crossfire, said Indian voters – estimated at 815 million – will remember the 2002 riots in Gujarat (in which mobs killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims) when they go to vote.
“The BJP cannot tell Indians to forget 2002 because the Congress was – in many ways – responsible for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that swept India. Modi must work hard to douse the anger of the Muslims with an element of hope. He must make them believe him, he must address their fears of Modi’s Hindu agenda,” said Gingrich.
Hindus make up 80 percent of India’s population and Muslims about 15 percent.
“He should not be seen as a great divider, he should be seen as a great moderniser,” said Gingrich, who had a number of video tele-conference interviews with BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
Gingrich said he found Modi focussed on good governance and economic revival.
“He avoided sectarian rhetoric. As long as he maintains that after assuming the high chair, he will be loved. Else, the stains will stay even if he occupies the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO),” Gingrich added.
(Shantanu Guha Ray can be contacted at email@example.com)