19 March, 2010

Gujarat, Not My Country

Gujarat: where the mind is full of fear and the head hangs in shame; the thinking head, that is. Where every town and every village has been broken up into fragments of narrow religious walls. Where, for four long months anarchy and incessant hatred stretched their arms towards destruction. Where the only ones walking about without fear are those guilty of murder and rape. From that land of mobocracy comes this sigh of disclaimer: Gujarat is not my country.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi put Gujarat on the world map. But for over a hundred days Gujarat witnessed everything that the Mahatma loathed. The state broke all tenets of ahimsa and, indeed, of dharma. As sanity returns repulsion is growing. With each passing day more Gujaratis wake up to the gruesome reality that gripped the best part of the state for several weeks.

But this sanity returns five months too late for the angel-faced Yasmin just entering her teens. It returned too late for the two-year plus cherubic Yaqoob, bravely struggling to erect a pyramid of pebbles atop a broken grave in the Chartola Kabrastan Relief Camp. Both lost a parent each to the marauders. Like a thousand other kids rendered orphan during the mindless violence that followed Godhra killings. The wisdom of Gujarat returns a bit too late for the eight hundred odd widows who do not know why their husbands were killed. And for thousands of those who between them lost a son, a brother, a sister, a child… It came certainly late for the brother who finds the sister painfully bowing down her head in inexplicable shame.

Gujarat is estimated to have three thousand huts and houses completely razed to the ground. Ahmedabad alone accounts for around 14,000 homes requiring minor to major repairs. Over five thousand commercial establishments were reportedly gutted statewide. As the state looked askance the fascists reigned supreme.

If religion is opium then Gujarat got intoxicated a bit too much, for a bit too long. The seeds were sown systematically over a decade ago with propaganda showing Hinduism endangered by Muslims. To bring BJP to power in Gujarat, to reap the harvest as it were, the ground was prepared through a two-fold strategy: BJP chose the path of mass agitations: frequent Gujarat Bandhs and relentless character assassinations. Simultaneously, its cousins in the Parivar unleashed covert and overt propaganda against the minorities. In retrospect the BJP's clarion call: Have ek tak Bhajap ne (now, one opportunity to BJP) unfolds its true meaning. They have "taught the Muslims a lesson". And cost Gujarat the growth of a generation. Welcome to Hindu rashtra.

One may fool some people for long, but not everyone for all times. As a confident Congress reasserts in Gujarat, increasing numbers of Gujaratis are discovering how they have been taken for a ride. Gujaratis ask, for instance, why Keshubhai Patel was replaced with Narendra Modi. Because he was not performing, they were told. So, how many schools has Modi constructed, built new roads, supplied water to the parched villages or laid bridges? How much FDI has he brought in, what new industries were set up during his short tenure? Why did Gujarat slide to the 8th place amongst industrialized states from its top position? How many new jobs did he provide to Gujarat's IT experts who now travel to Bangalore and Chennai for jobs? What, then, was all this "Gaurav" [pride] about the yatra he planned? Is it the pride of the lesson he taught to the Muslims? Or of shame and all-round decay he, and BJP, brought to Gujarat?

Vaghela, the new GPCC Chief, says it wasn't the whole of Gujarat that indulged in mass violence. Indeed, he says no more than one or two percent Gujaratis actually participated in the violence. He should know better. After all, he was the superior of Narendra Modi in the Sangh. Mercifully, Vaghela's Congress is focusing on development rather than appeasement, whether of the minority or the majority. The only lesson that both BJP and Congress needed to learn a long time ago.

But surely one Modi couldn't have polluted entire Gujarat single handedly and overnight. Surely the intellectuals were silenced by the powerful Hindutva rhetoric; the bureaucrats lacked the spine and hid with their skeletons inside the cupboards. Surely the teachers lost moral ground to their misguided young. The religious gurus could not prevent their disciples from adharma either. Some neighbours betrayed the trust. Those entrusted with security and required to uphold the law shirked in their duty, too. After all, not one police officer protested loud enough. Surely some could have hung their uniforms and walked out.

Be it the opium effect or the weak spine, what happened in Gujarat points to a very disturbing state of affairs. Fortunately, Gujaratiat is resurfacing slowly but steadily. Though the state assembly is dissolved, Modi rules by default - perhaps busy salvaging what he can and destroying damning evidence, lest his successors tried him for genocide. The mood in Gujarat is surely changing, leading a local English daily to proclaim. Good Bye Modi, Welcome Vaghela.

Let us hope that post election, non-Gujarati Indians will not have to say: Gujarat is not India. And let us resolve that India will never be Gujarat. As we saw it recently.

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