There’s an interview with Narendra Modi in the Wall Street Journal. Tangentially, Narendra Modi has apparently been dubbed NaMo by people on Twitter, thereby having something in common with JLo and KJo. More distressingly, I keep seeing NaMo and thinking of NaNoWriMo. This is not really the kind of word association I needed for either “novel” or “Narendra Modi”. Anyway, so this interview with WSJ is interesting because Modi isn’t known for giving interviews and because most of the time, there’s a beautiful disconnect between the question and the answer. So, for example, when he’s asked whether Gujarat’s electricity reforms can be a model for the rest of India, he says it was “God” who is responsible for Gujarat’s electrification and that “All the states of India felt that this should be replicated in their states too.” Which doesn’t really answer the question. That Indian states can feel is a revelation in itself, but setting that aside, the point is, Modi doesn’t answer the question. When asked if India should follow Gujarat as a model for electrification, his answer is that he was chosen by God and therefore was able to bring electricity to Gujarat. That’s neither an affirmative nor negative response to the question.
The gem in the WSJ interview, however, is Modi’s explanation for malnutrition.
WSJ: Gujarat’s malnutrition rates are persistently high. What are you doing to combat this?
Modi: Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle-class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, “I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.” We will try to get a drastic change in this. Gujarat is going to come up as a model in this also. I can’t make any big claims, because I don’t have a survey in front of me yet.
Now we know. It’s figure-consciousness that leads to malnutrition. He’s one step away from putting the blame on supermodels seen in foreign fashion magazines and television shows because they brainwash the impressionable youth of rural Gujarat with foreign ideals of beauty. Hey, they have, with the grace of God, got electricity in Gujarat. They can get cable tv.
Also, interestingly, it seems Modi has something in common with the average three-year-old — he refers to himself in the third person.
WSJ: Your critics say you should apologize for the 2002 riots. Why won’t you?
Modi: One only has to ask for forgiveness if one is guilty of a crime. If you think it’s such a big crime, why should the culprit be forgiven? Just because Modi is a chief minister, why should he be forgiven? I think Modi should get the biggest punishment possible if he is guilty. And the world should know there isn’t any tolerance for these kind of political leaders.
EDITED TO ADD: Wall Street Journal has pre-empted Modi saying his answer to the question about malnutrition was edited to make him sound idiotic by putting up his answer in its entirety.
“We are the first state in the country to raise the issue of malnutrition. It came to our mind that Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’ They have money but she’s beauty conscious, she’s not health conscious. So being a middle-class state is also a problem for me. A large segment of the population in my state is middle-class. Second is vegetarianism.
“So a lot needs to be explained to both the beauty conscious and the health conscious. We have to request to them that there should be a good nutritional situation. We gave a budget of 700 crore rupees ($126 million). But these things are such that you see a sudden change in a child after the age of 13-14 years. They grow up so fast – from zero to 13 you don’t come to know how they got so big. So we are going through that stage.
“Even after a lot of improvement – we still have to measure (malnutrition), conduct surveys. Until that is done, this perception will remain. But I’m quite confident. We will try to get a drastic change in this. Just as we’ve become a model in the electricity sector, Gujarat is going to come up as a model in this also. I can’t make any big claims, because I don’t have a survey in front of me yet.”
So now malnutrition is not only a problem caused by an obsession with body image, but also a problem of the affluent middle class. Good to know.