//Alchemy Of Intolerance

Alchemy Of Intolerance

Achyut Yagnik, Times of India, June 2006

 The image of Gujarat in the rest of India and the self-image of Gujaratis are diametrically opposite. After the events of 2002, the rest of India perceives Gujaratis as a highly intole-rant and violent lot; but at home Gujaratis think that they are becoming more assertive and are ready to fight for their rights and for the development of their state.

The recent controversy around Fanaa and the impassioned boycott of Aamir Khan has once again reinforced these opposite images. There was a time when the outside image and self-image were identical.

The face of Gujarat for the rest of India was its merchants. At home the hegemony of the merchant community transformed local ethos into a mercantile ethos resulting in a self-image of a peace-loving and accommodative people, normally avoiding conflict and finding the middle path.

Mahatma Gandhi built on this foundation, developing satyagraha as a medium of protest where non-violence and negotiation were the cornerstones.

But changing political economy, social dynamics and politics of culture have contributed to the metamorphosis of Gujarati ethos into its present cocktail of Hindutva, parochialism and violence where the space for debate and dialogue has disappeared.

The first assertion of Gujarati identity after Independence was the Mahagujarat movement for a separate state. This movement led to the bifurcation of the bilingual state of Bombay and establishment of Gujarat in 1960.

Communal riots followed a few years later in 1969. Though these were the first large-scale riots after Independence the episode hardly created ripples outside the state and the following decade remained peaceful.

In 1980s, violence erupted again when medical students of Ahmedabad started an anti-reservation agitation. The first agitation in 1981 targeted Dalits and in its second phase in 1985, though the issue was quota for OBCs, the victims were again Dalits and later Muslims.

From mid-1980s, Hindutva forces gradually perfected the politics of yatras and were able to mobilise various sections of Hindu society, including OBCs and Dalits (who were earlier alienated by the two anti-reservation riots), under the banner of the Ramjanambhoomi movement.

Parallel to the yatras of sangh parivar another agitation was taking shape under Narmada Bachao Andolan, first for just and proper rehabilitation of Narmada dam oustees and later for scrapping the dam.

 To counter this agitation, which was internationalised, successive ruling parties of Gujarat popularised the slogan of deve-lopment of Gujarat and the Sardar Sarovar project as lifeline of Gujarat.

As the state had experienced three years of severe drought, it was not just the urban middle classes but also the rural population who increasingly viewed the Narmada project as the only solution to overcome water scarcity and to ensure development of Gujarat.

In such a climate, Chimanbhai Patel and BJP emerged as an alternative to Congress and formed a coalition government. It was essentially the combination of two seemingly contradictory agendas — Hindutva and Gujarati parochialism.

While sangh parivar consolidated Hindutva for its own political gains, Chimanbhai sharpened Gujarati parochialism where pro-Narmada dam mobilisation provided political capital.

Through the twists and turns of state politics and shifts at the Centre, selling the dream of bountiful water from Narmada to people of Gujarat continued in early 1990s, as did violent Hindutva mobilisa-tion.

Significantly, the generation that was coming of age then internalised this potent mix of violence, Gujarati chauvinism and Hindutva rhetoric.

In the 1995 assembly elections, BJP emerged as the majority party and formed government, inheriting Gujarati pride in the Sardar Sarovar project as a legacy of previous regimes.

With the flag of Hindutva in one hand and banner of Sardar Sarovar in the other they continued to march on. After the rout in the 2000 panchayat elections, the BJP high command decided to change guard to prepare for the 2002 assembly polls. Narendra Modi, who had been general secretary of Gujarat BJP in 1980s, was brought in.

For Modi, the Narmada issue was not relevant as Supreme Court had given the green signal for completing construction after a delay of many years.

 But he developed the idea of Gujarati pride that the project embodied and soon after becoming chief minister he coined the slogan 'Our Gujarat, Unique Gujarat'.

Later, when he was criticised for his inaction, and even complicity, during the violence of 2002 he deflected accusations as attempts to tarnish the pride of 'five crore Gujaratis'.

Gujarati media made its contribution by echoing this sentiment, projecting Gujarati 'asmita' or identity and giving no space for dissent of any kind.

Modi's demagogy paid off and ensured political success for him, but in the process Gujarati parochialism became the order of the day.

This is why Aamir Khan's championing of rights of those displaced by the Narmada dam has touched a raw nerve and intensified the persecution mania whipped up by the political elite, local media and academics.

Neither Hindutva nor Gujarati chauvinism shows any signs of abating in the foreseeable future — any comment on this will only be interpreted as an attempt to denigrate the fair name of Gujarat.

The writer is a journalist and human rights activist.