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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Under Modi, 10 years of riot-free Gujarat

By Swapan Dasgupta

When it comes to commemorating or even celebrating anniversaries, Indians are inclined to be notoriously lax. The 50th anniversary of Indian independence in 1997 was, for example, perfunctorily observed and mainly as a sarkari celebration. The centenary of the foundation of New Delhi or, if you so wish, the loss of Calcutta’s pre-eminence in the political world, was, once again, a rarefied occasion with politicians unable to decide whether or not an imperial event should be acknowledged.

The arson attack on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra and the ensuing communal violence in Gujarat happened 10 years ago—a long enough time, going by strictly Indian standards, to leave the issue to polemicists and historians. Yet, and not surprisingly, the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat riots has become a media event or, to be more precise, an English-language media occasion. Over the past week, there have been innumerable articles on the plight of the victims, the tardy pace of the judicial process and lachrymose TV documentaries indicating that there is not enough justice to embrace Gujarat.

As is to be expected, there is an explicit political agenda behind reprinting the photograph of a trishul-brandishing, ugly rioter and Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for his life. However, what is interesting is that the hapless victims are no longer the primary focus. They have conveniently receded into the background as either lifeless statistics or labels such as Best Bakery, Gulbarga Housing Society and Naroda Patiya. Likewise, the rioters who were responsible for perpetrating beastly horrors have been reduced to a meaningless three letter word: the ‘mob’. They have lost all individual identities. Instead, the Gujarat riots have been sought to be reduced to one individual whose stern, bearded face stares at the reader and TV watcher.

To someone who didn’t live through those troubled times in 2002, it would almost seem that the rioters were personally led from the front by Narendra Modi: a khalnayak leading the flash mobs.  

There is a compelling reason why the events in Gujarat have been portrayed in this fashion. It is not politically rewarding or expedient for the ambulance chasers to recognise that Modi inherited a Gujarat that was gripped by a pre-existing communal polarisation. You had to make a casual trip to Ahmedabad in the 1980s and 1990s to realise the extent to which both Hindus and Muslims deeply felt a dread of the ‘other’. It used to be said about localities such as Juhapura in old Ahmedabad city that you had to merely cross the road for a small riot to break out and another one when you retraced your steps. Curfew was the norm in Gujarat during the days Chimanbhai Patel and others before him ruled the state. Minor riots were almost a daily occurrence ever since the big Ahmedabad riot of 1969. The historically-minded can refer to a speech made by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha in 1970 to gauge the atmospherics of that time.

The reason for referring to the state of Gujarat 10 years ago is simple: the social polarisation was conducive to permanent tension among communities. As someone who had cut his teeth politically in that environment, Modi, it can legitimately be argued, was also infected by the sectarian virus. But so, for that matter, was most of Gujarati society. The communal polarisation that contributed to feelings of suspicion and even hate pre-dated Modi’s installation as Chief Minister in 2001. Gujarat was already a communal tinderbox even before Modi was brought back to Gandhinagar from his political exile.

Acknowledging the already tense environment of Gujarat before the arson attack on kar sevaks in Godhra is problematic. It prompts the awkward conclusion that the 2002 riots were the culmination of a process that began decades ago, when successive Congress chief ministers ruled the roost. More troubling is the grim truth that dare not speak its name: that the riots were blessed with a large measure of spontaneity. In fact, they may even have had a social sanction which, as Ashis Nandy has, for example, often observed, was absent from the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi.

If the historical context of the 2002 riots is taken into account, the 10th anniversary assumes a very different significance. There may have been lapses in the rehabilitation programme (something which can’t be said for the post-earthquake reconstruction of Kutch) and there may be grounds to believe that the post-riot investigations have not always been rigorous. But this cannot distract attention from the fact that riots have not recurred in Gujarat since then, not even in old Ahmedabad. It is not that the communal polarisation has given way to inter-faith bonhomie. There are still residual tensions but these have been significantly diluted in a decade that has seen Gujarat race ahead in chase for economic growth and prosperity. The incessant curfews of yesteryear have given way to vibrant cities where citizens are no longer afraid of enjoying their post-dinner ice cream on the streets. The administration has learnt the lessons of 2002 very well.

This is why I agree that the 10th anniversary of the riots is a time for commemoration. But a different kind of observance than what the media is dishing out. It is the time to mark 10 years of a riot-free Gujarat. That in itself is a pledge that 2002 will never happen again.

Sunday Pioneer, February 26, 2012 


Butcher said...

Sir, my respect for u has multifolded after reading this peice.A absolute gem and and an eye opener for all modi bashers in the English media.

Anonymous said...

Really well written article...It needs to read by every Modi Basher particularly Sr. Editors in English News Channels NDTV , Timesnow and CNN-IBN...


Anonymous said...

10 years is nothing - when your party can rake up the ram temple/ Babri masjid issue whenever you feel like, here the man responsible for two days of state supported pogrom has still not paid for his crimes.

Anonymous said...

All said n done on sabarmati express n subsequent riots,gujrat is the luckiest INDIAN state to learn lesson from our past communal history n move to greater glory.Hata off to Modi style.

Deepstar said...

Somebody has to be punished right? who will take the blame? Innocent people died. Whether hindu or muslim is immaterial. Who should take the responsibility. Mr Dasgupta I understand your views but who according to you should be held accountable

Rachit said...

eye opener post

Weakest LINK

Anonymous said...


rahul said...

what an idea sirji, all indian states must follow modi model of combating riots.
want to stop riots in your state in future? simple !!
Allow a section of people to kill minorites of the state, rape thier women, burn them, destroy thier properties,deny them basic facilities and force them to live in relief camps as second class citizens.

problem solved. no more riots u will get a vibrant state.
what if it happens with your mother and sister?
would u still try to defend criminals by your foolish logics ?

Arpit said...

Bang on target was this piece on Gujarat and the aftermath of 2002. I was getting tired of biased pieces on Gujarat'02 on FirstPost and others of its kind. what was even more depressing was that the nature of those articles depicting Gujarat and Narendra Modi in extremely poor light. Cant stop feeling that the English-News Media is taking sides and ONE side is being preferred excessively.

Anonymous said...

100% true. I'm not Modi basher, but I wish Modi would follow Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I expected compassion instead of machismo. Sorries, vibrancy is cliche today, It is only real compassion that would make Modi a real Indian hero not his mortal roads.There is huge difference between leader and CEO.


Anonymous said...

The "where else test"

There is a where else test that one can apply in problem solving. When you see a problem you need to ask ; "Where else should you be seeing this problem but do not". The answer gives you solid data to decide.
Gujarat needs to be compared to all other such event in India with this where else test. "Where else did the riots happen but were controlled in a day or two?"
Similarly, about Modi being held guilty by the English press and some so called intellectuals -"Where else do you see a person being held guilty without a charge sheet or trial but do not?"
The answers would give be good pointers to the state of affairs.
When Kejriwal talked of people with criminal cases in our parliament, it is the same intellectuals who would point out that none of these people have been found guilty yet!

Jitendra Desai said...

English press and channels have been screaming about this event since last one week.Event that took place a decade ago has receded from the public memory.If you rake it up like this,you only further polarise Hindus.That helps BJP and Modi.Yet this is going on.May be you would discuss the real motive of media in your next blog.
" A fanatic is the one who does not change his opinion, NOR THE SUBJECT" - Oscar Wilde
Media is refusing to change the subect.Mr Ashish Nandi should comment on this pathology and neurosis of our media.
If they go on harping on the past event like this, Hindus may start harping on the events that took place in very distant past, say the sack of Somnath that took place 1000 years ago.

Anonymous said...

sir, i was a 12th grader giving my board exams of 12th standard when the riots occured..but as u correctly said that it was a situation building up for 2002 since the 1990s.Also i feel that u are the one who is neutral in this case and juggling between cnn-ibn and ndtv compared to most others who are modi bashers.Right now i am in america where the time magazine has rated modi as the best politician in india by far because of his development and attracting various businesses in gujarat.AND UNTIL THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT AND THE ENGLISH MEDIA START GIVING MODI CREDIT FOR RIOT FREE AND PROSPEROUS GUJARAT, WE WILL STILL BE TALKING ABOUT THIS SAME MODI BASHING IN THE NEXT DECADE AND COMING YEARS..THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SUCH A GOOD INTROSPECT.