Modi-fied: Software tycoon Narayana Murthy
NEW DELHI: India’s controversial opposition candidate for premier, Narendra Modi, should not be barred from the job because of deadly anti-Muslim riots under his rule, one of India’s most respected business tycoons says.
Software czar N R Narayana Murthy is the first business leader to address the issue of the 2002 riots that occurred during Modi’s first term as chief minister of Gujarat state since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in September named the politician as its candidate for premier. Asked whether the riots represented an issue which should stand in the way of Modi from becoming prime minister in general elections due in May, Murthy told Indian news channel NDTV: “No.”
“There is no human being (who is) perfect,” Murthy, the co-founder and executive chairman of software exporting giant Infosys, said in the broadcast aired yesterday.
“There have been lots of riots in India so the important thing is for us to say we will correct what happened,” said Murthy, seen as one of the Indian business community’s elder statesmen for his reputation of moral probity.
“We will move forward in a positive way,” Murthy said.
Other business leaders have voiced support for the 63-year-old BJP leader and a recent Nielsen poll of 100 corporate figures showed 74 percent wanted him to be premier of the world’s largest democracy.
But none has tackled the issue of the riots head-on.
Human rights groups allege up to 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were beaten, shot and burnt to death in Modi’s first term as chief minister of western Gujarat state.
Modi has been accused of turning a blind eye to the violence in which human rights groups say police stood by and took no action.
While Modi has denied wrongdoing, one of his former ministers was jailed last year for orchestrating some of the unrest and the national human rights commission called his government’s response “a comprehensive failure”.
Murthy suggested Modi be allowed to show “contrition” for the riots and “move on”.
“The courts have not indicted (Modi) or passed any stricture or judgement,” he said.
Many business leaders are convinced Modi can replicate his home state of Gujarat’s economic success at the national level and revive India’s sharply slumping growth.
Modi will likely face ruling Congress party scion Rahul Gandhi, 43, whose family has given India three premiers, on the national campaign trail.
But analysts have questioned Modi’s pan-India appeal while Gandhi has been a stumbling performer on the hustings.
Some analysts say the polls could result in an unstable outcome with smaller regional parties having diverse goals seizing the upper hand.
P Chidambaram, who doubles up as government spokesman, said separately yesterday he does not think India will get a government with “solid majority” in the elections.
Chidambaram said India is a democracy going through a “phase of churn”.
In the more than six decades since India became free of British colonial rule, he said this is the “weakest point” in its democracy.
Gandhi, meanwhile, in a rare news conference, appealed for all-party support for an anti-corruption bill to be introduced in parliament tomorrow to create an ombudsman or Lokpal with wide-ranging powers to root out corrupt officials in India’s sprawling bureaucracy.
Corruption has been one of the biggest issues fuelling voter anger with the Congress government.
“We are 99 percent there toward passing the bill, but we can’t do it alone,” Gandhi said.