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Moving From Moditva To Sanity:
The Stakes In Gujarat

By Praful Bidwai

29 October, 2007
Kashmir Times

When Mr Narendra Modi walked out of an interview
with the CNN-IBN television channel last week
after being questioned about the Gujarat communal
carnage of 2002, he probably didn't realise he
was inflicting grave damage upon his image. The
impact of the walkout, which showed Mr Modi as
confused, shaky, arrogant and unreasonable, has
since been magnified several-fold by Tehelka's
exposure of the gruesome violence planned and
encouraged by the Modi regime, whose barbarity
has shocked the nation.

"The two episodes have dented Mr Modi's contrived
image as a swashbuckling, super-confident leader
who can ride out any adversity," says
Ahmedabad-based activist-analyst Mukul Sinha.
"The man is nothing. His larger-than-life image
is everything. But he can longer maintain it. He
comes across as a criminally minded, viciously
communal leader."

As he readies himself for electoral battle in
December, Mr Modi is likely to find that his
deflated image extracts a high political price.
Five years after his Bharatiya Janata Party won
70 percent of all seats in the Assembly despite
(or is it because of?) the communal violence of
February/March 2002, it appears much more
vulnerable than at any time during its 12
continuous years in power in Gujarat. The
vote-share gap between it and the Congress
narrowed from 10 percentage-points to barely 3
between 2002 and 2004, and may now get reversed.
Gujarat's Assembly elections are likely to be a
national turning-point. If the BJP wins them
under Mr Modi's stewardship, the result will
greatly influence leadership succession within
the party and strengthen its hard- Hindutva
elements. More vitally, in conjunction with the
Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh-also due in
December, in which the BJP is widely expected to
displace the Congress-it'll prove a major
morale-booster and help the party stem its losses
in the next Lok Sabha elections. (A recent poll
by NDTV-GfK-Mode forecasts a fall in the BJP's
national tally from 138 seats to 116.)
If, on the other hand, the BJP loses Gujarat,
it'll be a massive setback for it and a major
gain for the secular forces. That'll set the
stage for a long-overdue correction to the
ghastly trend that brought about the communal
violence of 2002, in which more than 2,000
Muslims were butchered, many more raped, and
150,000 rendered homeless. This could herald the
BJP's relegation to the margins of politics,
where it belonged until the Ram janmabhoomi
campaign clicked in the late 1980s. This could
transform Indian democracy qualitatively for the

Mr Modi, the chhote sardar who looked invincible
just some months ago, now seems beset by
adversity and enemies-ironically, mainly from his
own sangh parivar . Not just Vishwa Hindu
Parishad sadhus and RSS cadres, but even
significant sections of the BJP, bitterly oppose

They comprise at least 11 MLAs and two MPs,
including heavyweights like former Chief
Ministers Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta,
former Union textiles Minister Kashiram Rana, and
state ex-Home Minister Goverdhan Zadaphiya. Some
of them are prepared to quit the BJP and work
with or through the Congress to defeat Mr Modi.
They have held about 80 anti-Modi rallies in
different parts of Gujarat, including an
unprecedented 300,000-strong one in Rajkot.
Beneath the leadership-level changes lie major
shifts in the BJP's social support-base. Two
large caste groups, the Kolis and Leuva Patils
(Patidars), have moved away from it. The OBC
Kolis are among the state's largest castes,
comprised largely of small and marginal farmers,
and landless labourers. Traditionally Congress
voters, the Kolis gravitated towards the BJP in
the mid-1990s and voted en masse for it in 2002.
By the 2004 Parliamentary elections, however, 55
percent of their vote went back to the Congress.
The prosperous Patidars dominate Gujarat's
agriculture, small and medium-scale industries,
and diamond polishing. Their vote is decisive in
one-third of all constituencies. They account for
37 of the BJP's total of 127 MLAs; its Koli MLAs
number 15. Both groups are upset with Mr Modi
because of his extremely abrasive style,
readiness to humiliate, refusal to share the
loaves and fishes of office, and his government's
failure to allow the fruits of growth to trickle

No less significant is the anger among Gujarat's
tribal community and civil society organisations
(CSOs) with Mr Modi's rule. Adivasis comprise 15
percent of the population-among the highest
proportion in Indian states-and have 26 reserved
seats. Earlier, they would vote overwhelmingly
for the Congress, but in 2002, the Congress got
only 11 tribal seats to the BJP's 13. Now,
however, Lok Sangharsh Morcha, an Adivasi
organisation, has decided to take on the BJP and
contest seven Assembly seats.

Similarly, CSOs active among the victims of
violence are preparing to confront the BJP and
mobilise the Muslim community to go out and vote.
The 2002 carnage, followed by constant
harassment, persecution under anti-terrorism
laws, and social intimidation, economic boycott
and political marginalisation, ghettoised Muslims
and pulverised them into submissiveness. But
resistance to marginalisation is growing and
groups like the New Social Movement are planning
to put up solidly secular candidates.

All this offers the Congress and its allies a
great chance to defeat the BJP and vanquish
Moditva, that diabolical combination of rank
communalism, blatant violation of human rights,
and pursuit of extremely dualistic elitist
policies in the name of "development".
Mr Modi, who mouths the "Vibrant Gujarat" slogan,
boasts that the state is one big SEZ-where 'S'
stands for spirituality, 'E' for
entrepreneurship, and 'Z' for zing. India Today
magazine and the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of
Contemporary Studies have rated Gujarat a high
performing state with all-round growth and Mr
Modi India's most efficient Chief Minister.
In reality, Gujarat is a misgoverned state, with
unbalanced growth and warped development.
Eloquent proof for this comes from the fact that
74.3 percent of Gujarat's women and 46.3 percent
of its children are anaemic. Gujarat's
macro-economic indicators are unflattering. It
has a higher per capita debt-ratio than UP and
Bihar. Agrarian distress has driven more than 500
Gujarat farmers to suicide over the past four
years. Sweetheart deals for business groups have
sent the prices of basic services and inputs
rocketing. Despite high tariffs like Rs 5.32 a
unit, the power supply situation remains
pathetic. Gujarat continues to attract industrial
investment not because of its leaders' dynamism
or policies but because of a historical
accident-business groups invested there early on,
and there's a big petrochemicals cluster around

As the official Human Development Report (2004)
points out, " Gujarat has reached only 48 percent
of the goals set for human development". It lags
behind in this thanks to "several distortions in
[its] growth path", including agricultural
stagnation. Its gains in literacy, education,
health, nutrition, welfare and social security
are much lower than its GDP growth. Recent
"deceleration in [its] achievements", it says, is
cause for "serious concern."

Gujarat's human development and gender
empowerment ranks actually fell during the 1990s.
Although it's Number 4 among all states in per
capita income (down from Number 2), it has fallen
to Number 6 in education, 9 in health, and Number
12 in participation.

Gujarat's indices of patriarchy are frightening.
The sex-ratio is an abysmal 487:1000 in the 0-4
age-group and 571 in the 5-9 group (national
averages, 515 and 632 respectively). Gujarat's
health indices have since dropped relative to
other states and are barely higher than Orissa's,
HDR co-author Darshini Mahadevia told me. In
social sector spending as a proportion of total
public expenditure, Gujarat ranks a lowly 19
among India's 21 major states.

The industries that have flourished the most in
Gujarat are all highly hazardous or polluting:
poisonous chemicals-Vapi is the world's fourth
most toxic hub-, textile dyeing, shipbreaking,
and diamond polishing, which turns people blind
in their thirties. Gujarat hasn't still recovered
from the de-industrialisation of the 1980s and
1990s with its mill industry's wholesale closure.
In Gujarat, labour rights are virtually
nonexistent. On minimum wages, Gujarat ranks
eighth among Indian states.

As for the claim that Gujarat is
well-administered, its legislature's Public
Accounts Committee has severely indicted the
government for awarding contracts in the Sujalam
Sufalam scheme without tenders, causing a loss of
hundreds of crores. Tax breaks and shady deals
have cost Gujarat some Rs 15,000 crores.
"Hindutva laboratory" Gujarat's law-and-order
situation is appalling. Its religious minorities
and Dalits suffer extreme discrimination and
exclusion. Like Muslims, its Christians face
persecution. More than 100 Dalits were murdered
in Gujarat over the past three years. The
harassment of hundreds of Muslims originally
arrested under TADA and POTA continues
unabated-although these laws stand repealed. The
absence of the rule of law means a hollowing out
of democracy.

The Congress has a historic chance to inflict a
stinging defeat on the BJP. To do this, it must
offer an alternative vision, take a strongly
secular line, build alliances with other
anti-communal parties/groups, and run a spirited
campaign with a wise choice of candidates, while
keeping the BJP dissidents at an arm's length.
The fight is winnable-and certainly worth winning.



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