Gujarat Pogrom













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Gujarati Primer

Suman K Jha interviews political psychologist Ashis Nandy on the fall out of Gujarat election results.

Is the verdict in Gujarat a manifestation of regional self-esteem, or is it something else?

I'm afraid it's mostly a victory of fear and hatred. At the same time, while elections give play to the myths and fears of people, the results also reflect the power relations between different social groups, communities and interest groups. They are never a single-issue affair.

Like the majority suffering from a minority syndrome.

Absolutely. The pre-poll survey, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), showed that most Gujaratis, including highly educated ones, believe that Muslims constitute more than 20 per cent of the state's population though the census says they are less than 10 per cent. Clearly, Muslims loom large on middle-class Gujarati Hindu consciousness.

Would the BJP then reinvent its original charter and replicate the Gujarat model elsewhere in the country?

Well, the BJP is only 60 per cent of the NDA. Unless it is willing to give up power at the Centre at this point, it cannot afford to antagonise its allies. Moreover, it just cannot bounce back to power at the Centre on its own in a diverse country like India. Actually, its all-India vote-share has never been high. In this respect, it will be naive to compare Gujarat with other states. Gujarat witnessed massive violence followed by elections. That too in a context where rioting has been going on for thirty years, interrupted by brief periods of peace. Also, it is one of the most urbanised states today and communal riots in India have a strong urban connection. Gujarat, though a small state, has about 50 cities, a communalised middle class, and a massive floating population, ever willing to make a living out of violence.

Is this somewhat reminiscent of the Shiv Sena experiment in Maharashtra: its nativism and its perpetual search for the "Other"?

On the whole, yes.

What do you think of Narendra Modi's prospects after the polls?

In the short run, Mr Modi will find an increasing number of supporters in the BJP. The RSS, the VHP and its offshoots would rally behind him. In the event of any intra-party factional battle, Mr Modi may even challenge the party's central leadership. In the long run, however, the ideology he represents cannot win nationwide support. Though he might think that it can.

Do the Gujarat results prove that secularism is in crisis in our country?

Secularism as a modern ideology has been in crisis in India for the last 20 years. And believe me, it doesn't have much future either. Everyone knows it; but only a few admit it. Tell me the name of one hero of secularism who can be called a secularist except the currently-unfashionable Jawaharlal Nehru — Kabir? Akbar? Shah Latif? Gandhi? Narayan Guru? Would Kabir have been Kabir if he was "secular"? Had he heard of secularism? This is the tragedy of our times. We have not built on the ideas, worldviews and traditions of the likes of Kabir who encouraged and nurtured inter-religious amity and peace. These are ideas and worldviews that make sense to our people. Our intellectuals want to impose on them their ideas, which are actually second-hand western ideas. This is ridiculous.

But is our political class well-equipped to build on those ideas? For instance, Congress's Sonia Gandhi and Shankersinh Vaghela launched their campaign from the Ambaji Temple. And then came out with two different manifestos. Wasn't the Congress the B-team of the BJP?

Despite all their faults, the political classes are in better touch with the people. After all, their livelihood depends on it. Only, they lack the communication skills to articulate their experience. The brighter ones among them have always interpreted secularism loosely and, sometimes, used other, more rooted ideas of mutuality creatively.

Do you think there has been a rightward shift in our polity in the last two decades or so?

Not really. It's only that the forces of religious chauvinism and jingoism have got the space to get better-organised. We have allowed small groups of fanatics, who have never won a majority of Hindu votes except in small pockets, to speak on behalf of one billion Hindus of the world. In these modern times, when "rootlessness" and "desperation" have taken epidemic forms, "management of hatred" is the greatest challenge we face. Which explains why we must try to tap our cultural resources to fight conflicts.

How does one now ensure the protection of dignity and lives of minorities in Gujarat?

When institutions of the state are unavailable or biased, the natural response should be to use the means still available — the judiciary, the NGOs, leading religious thinkers, creative writers and artists, even international laws on genocide and crimes against humanity. Many are working along these lines and I am very proud of them.

Januray 01, Times Of India