Gujarat is calm on the surface. People appear to have overcome the trauma of the 2002 killings, business seems back to usual, and the government is grappling with normal administrative and political problems – flood relief, health hazards, foreign investment MOUs, minding matters of legislation. But as we discover in this issue’s cover article, the state’s social fabric has collapsed. Hindu-Muslim relations are spiralling out of control, as polarisation deepens.
Though it is true that relations between Hindus and Muslims have an undercurrent of tension in India, it is only rarely that a conflagration consumes so many lives and properties. There are occasional riots, some sparked off by an unfounded rumour, others a part of a larger political conspiracy. Polarisation is present across the country, in varied degrees. Gujarat itself has had a history of communal tension over the past few decades. But what we are witnessing here is not a Hindu-Muslim spat, with any one community having an upper hand. Neither is this about a tiny band of extremists from either side trying to arouse emotions.
Gujarat is different because the division within the state is sharp and clear: there is now a Hindu Gujarat, the top dog, and a Muslim Gujarat, the underdog. Many Hindus in the state harbour some of the worst stereotypes about Muslims in their minds; they are, in fact, eager to create a society where the Muslims have as little a role as possible. In terms of social interaction, the two communities are metaphorically and literally barely on speaking terms. One whole group of people – Muslims, who make up 9 percent of the population – feels alienated from the state system. They are targets of systematic as well as subtle discrimination. All this makes Gujarat stand out, for it comes closest to the vision of what the Hindutva ideologues propose for India as a whole.
Gujarat is a problem not only for Muslims of that state. It is a challenge for all of Southasia. All of us should be fighting for accountability and justice for the 2002 carnage, and the continuing excesses against Gujarati Muslims. What we should be seeing today is a region-wide concern, and the organisation of seminars, sit-ins and protests against Narendra Modi – not only in Madras and Calcutta, but in Kathmandu, Dhaka, Karachi and Colombo. There is a little bit of Gujarat in each of our societies.
All Southasia must track Gujarat, follow its record of injustice, understand its evolution, and remind Gujarat’s vainglorious power elites that they cannot convert Gujarat into ‘another country’.
But what should provide a ray of hope is the fact that political dominance, based only on hatred and demonising another community, is not sustainable. Social coalitions disintegrate, new alliances are formed, economic factors emerge, and issues that concern the common voter change. All Hindus who are today aligned with rightwing outfits are not committed ideologues; they will change preference and loyalty when power equations change.