Stop demanding an apology from Modi – it won’t come.
As all those opposed to Narendra Modi demand that he first apologise for the events in 2002, I thought I’d do a bit of reading on other apologies by politicians in the past. That’s when I stumbled upon this gem:
“Something else I picked up is what I’m going to call the politician’s apology. This is where you apologise for a misdeed not by apologising for what you did, but rather apologising that other people were offended. One blogger coined the word “fauxpology” to describe this sort of non-apology. In other words, you’re not apologising at all! It’s like the childhood non-apology.
“Apologise to your sister for calling her ugly.”
“I’m sorry you’re ugly.”
In the politician’s apology, you apologise not for the offence itself, but for the fact that what you did offended someone. “I’m sorry you’re a hypersensitive crybaby“, says Raymond Chen on his blog.
The American Prospect delves deep into what goes into, and what needs to go into, a political apology.
“According to anthropologist Joan Silk of UCLA, an apology is a way of returning a relationship to where it was before it was damaged. Good apologies reduce the desire for retribution, make the victim more likely to act positively towards the offender, and increase the victim’s willingness to forgive. A successful political apology minimises the effect of the transgression in the next election by restoring a damaged relationship between a politician and voters.”
“… a successful apology must convince the listener that the person who makes it is truly contrite—that he (or she) is genuinely sorry, not sorry he got caught. A good apology must contain an expression such as “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” that indicates the statement is an apology, an admission of responsibility, an offer of restitution or repair, and a promise not to repeat the offence.”
Narendra Modi hasn’t apologised at all. The closest that he has come to an apology is a few lines in his blog, as reported by BJP spokesperson Nirmala Seetharaman. Seetharman quotes from a blog post by Modi on the occasion of Teacher’s Day (which I haven’t been able to find on Narendra Modi’s site): “The last paragraph in the piece carries the kernel: “In Jain tradition there is a custom to say “Michhami dukkadam” during the Paryushan festival. Michhami dukkadam means I ask forgiveness for any hurt I may have caused you by thoughts, words or actions, knowingly or unknowingly.” The piece ended with “Michhami dukkadam to you all“.”
While there is no apology, there’s the non-apology that Raymond Chen writes about. “I ask forgiveness for any hurt I may have caused…” is how michhami dukkadam translates.
“We should also note that being sorry for causing offence is itself a rather weak form of sorriness, since it doesn’t necessarily imply being sorry for the actions or words that caused the offence,” explains Mark Liberman, in the context of an apology by Hilary Clinton on a remark she made on Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
As long as Modi’s ambitions are limited to Gujarat, he may not need to apologise at all. Going by Joan Silk’s rationale, an apology would be required if there is a ‘damaged relationship between a politician and voters’. In Modi’s case, the relationship with his support base hasn’t been damaged – it’s the relationship with those who do not vote for him which is on the rocks.
What happens if Narendra Modi does, indeed, want to go national? He has no existing relationship with voters out of Gujarat that needs mending. It’s only his detractors in politics and media who will continue to raise the issue of the deaths in 2002 – and those who suffered during the riots. How important will this issue be to voters, say, in Tamil Nadu?
Not too much, it appears.
The Congress has not apologised for the 1984 riots, it’s important to remember. The closest that the party has come to an apology is when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “I have no hesitation in apologising not only to the Sikh community but to the nation because (the riots) negated the concept of nationhood,” he said. “I bow my head in shame for what happened… but there are ebbs and tides in a nation’s history.”
Perhaps media—and the Congress—should stop wasting time demanding an apology from Modi. History—and the Congress Party—tell us that apologies from politicians are rare—and when they do happen, they’re never apologies.