Muslim Question In Gujarat
By Vidya Subrahmaniam
09 October, 2007
Five years after Narendra Modi’s
stupendous victory in the Assembly election, Gujarat is set to go to
the polls again — admittedly in entirely different circumstances.
Election 2002 was surcharged with sectarian emotion. The violence inherent
in the Godhra aftermath extinguished all debate, forcing the Congress,
the principal opposition party, to conduct a low-key campaign that skirted
the most obvious election issue: The sadism visited on Muslims.
In 2007, Mr. Modi gives the
appearance of having moved on. Already in campaign mode, he avoids the
past election’s caustic references to Godhra, mullahs and Mian
Musharraf, focussing instead on the “11 per cent growth”
Gujarat has achieved with him as helmsman. If he brings up the Ramar
Sethu issue, it is not with the intensity expected of him.
The 2007 election in Gujarat
is what psephologists would call a “normal” election, unattended
by passion, and without an overarching issue. Yet this normal election
seems no less contemptuous of a community that forms over nine per cent
of the State’s population. In 2002, the debate targeted Muslims.
In 2007, the debate has bypassed Muslims. The community has been kept
out of the discourse by an unspoken consensus that includes Mr. Modi,
the Congress and the anti-Modi dissidents.
In an interview with The
Hindu en route from Ahmedabad to Vadodara , Mr. Modi described Gujarat
ki seva, seva, seva ( service, service and service of Gujarat) as his
single mission. The mission obsessed him, he said, adding proudly that
under him Gujarat had become the “number one State in Asia.”
Among his achievements in five years: an almost four-fold increase in
agricultural income from Rs.9,000 crore to Rs.34,000 crore; rise in
cotton production from 23 lakh bales to 1.23 crore bales and uninterrupted
electricity supply to rural homes. As he spoke, it was apparent that
he had programmes for every section — women, adivasis, farmers
and so forth.
Yet the Chief Minister was
to turn hostile on the question of Muslims. Asked where Muslims figured
in his vision of Gujarat, he flared up: “I don’t like this
thinking. I work for five-and-a-half crore Gujaratis. For me, anyone
who lives here is a Gujarati, and I will not allow politics to come
If only this were true. In
Vadodara, Professor Ganesh Devy, literary critic, activist and director
of the Tribal Academy at Tejgadh, took me on a tour of Tandalja and
Vasna Road, two parallel streets only six metres apart. The first was
a mostly Muslim area, the second housed Hindus. The contrast wrenched
the heart. Mounds of rotting garbage, dark, damp, crowded homes, and
desolate young men standing in groups made the Muslim part instantly
recognisable. The brightness of Vasna Road equally identified it as
a Hindu area. The divide is as much physical as mental — and as
much in Vadodara as in other Gujarat cities. It is a symbol of complete,
absolute Muslim isolation in a State that Mr. Modi claims is “number
one in Asia.”
It is perhaps a consolation
that unhygienic and wretched as their living conditions are, these Muslims
at least live in their own homes. There are many who don’t. In
October 2006, the National Commission for Minorities reported that over
5000 displaced Muslim families lived in “sub-human conditions”
in 46 makeshift colonies spread across the riot-affected districts of
The NCM team, which visited
17 camps, accused the Gujarat Government of refusing to fulfil “its
constitutional responsibility.” It also contradicted the Chief
Minister’s claim that the families had opted to live there: “In
view of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Commission finds
this viewpoint untenable and evasive of a government’s basic responsibility.”
The team’s findings brought help to the displaced families —
but from the Central Government which announced a compensation package.
However, to blame Mr. Modi
alone for the social and political exclusion of Muslims would be to
turn away from a truth that involves a much wider spectrum. Holding
centre-stage at the dissident-led farmers’ rally in Rajkot was
Gordhan Zadaphia, the Home Minister who stood by Mr. Modi during the
2002 pogrom. A compact disc showing crucial details of his whereabouts
at the time of the riots is currently before the Nanavati Commission
Recently, Mr. Zadaphia told
The Indian Express that while he accepted moral responsibility for the
2002 violence, that was not why he turned critical of Mr. Modi. “What
happened in 2002 was different”, he said, tracing his revolt to
the government’s indifference to the “issues of poor people,
farmers and rural folks.” No mention of Muslims.
Little wonder then that the
main complaint aired from the Rajkot platform was that Mr. Modi had
deserted his Hindutva roots. The BJP dissidents turned on Mr. Modi for
forsaking the agenda that brought him to power. They accused him of
betraying the Hindu community on Ayodhya and warned him not to raise
the Ramar Sethu issue: “Don’t you dare talk of Ram Sethu,
Modi.” After the meet, I spoke to some of the rebels. Their unanimous
verdict: Mr. Modi could no longer lay claim to the title ‘Hindu
The Congress has not ridiculed
itself to this extent. But its leaders seem convinced that to talk secularism
in Gujarat is to commit suicide. Asked why the Congress associated with
men like Mr. Zadaphia who were identified with the 2002 violence, Shankarsinh
Waghela argued that people called him a “BJP man.” Further
that the Congress was a ‘samudra’ (sea) that absorbed all
ideologies. Other Congress leaders said they did not want to dilute
the anti-Modi movement by raising the Muslim issue.
A veteran of many elections
put it this way: In Gujarat, there are two currents of opinion. One
is against Muslims, the other against Mr. Modi. If the first were raised,
Mr. Modi would revert to his post-Godhra violent image which would compel
Gujaratis to side with him against a “much worse” enemy.
The most secular among Congresspersons buy this theory. Their case:
the ideological compromises are necessary to win this do-or-die election.
The KHAM formula
It is a sad state of affairs in a party that in the late 1970s crafted
the ingenious KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) formula. KHAM
brought the depressed, marginalised classes on one platform and delivered
stunning results for the Gujarat Congress. In 1980, it won 141 out of
the 182 Assembly seats, and in 1985 it bettered the record with 149
seats. The Congress achieved its majorities — far larger than
what Mr. Modi secured in 2002 — by mobilising the lowest in the
social order. KHAM was more than an electoral strategy. It was a daring
effort to empower the historically subjugated classes.
Tragically, for that very
reason, the alliance invited the backlash of the forward castes. Brahmins,
Banias and Patidars, who mobilised themselves through the medium of
the 1985 anti-reservation protests, gradually shifted towards the BJP,
going on to form the party’s core. Yet the forward castes could
never win power on their own. And thus began the calculated dismantling
of KHAM. Using the proxy of Hindu unity, the BJP and the sangh parivar
targeted the KHAM communities, enticing Kolis, Dalits and Advasis into
joining their majoritarian project.
The Congress helplessly watched
as Hindutva forces penetrated the Adivasi areas of central and east
Gujarat. The cultural indoctrination focussed on showing up the tribal
culture, including their forms of worship, as inferior. Tribal villagers
I met spoke of being visited by the various Hindu sects. The Vishwa
Hindu Parishad distributed Ganesh and Ram idols in the villages, because
of which today Ram is a recognised name among tribals. Yet the political
influence of Hindutva remained limited in the tribal belt.
In 2002, this barrier too
was breached with the co-option of tribals into the anti-Muslim pogrom.
This was not voluntary, and as Professor Devy pointed out in his essay,
“Tribal voice and violence” (Seminar, issue 513), the Rathwa
tribals in Tejgadh and Panval were uninfluenced by the communal argument.
So the arsonists pushed the commercial angle with the focus on Muslim
moneylenders. Today, there is regret in these areas for the 2002 aberration.
Whether the Congress will
benefit from this is anybody’s guess. Because in 2007, the authors
of KHAM are in league with the destroyers of KHAM. What place can Adivasis
and Muslims claim in a party that is firing at Mr. Modi from the shoulder
of his more Hindutva opponents?
Copyright © 2007, The
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