Gujarat’s internal refugees

Print edition : October 16, 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2015 in Gandhinagar. He has skillfully and successfully wielded two weapons—the promise of economic advance and the image of one who gets things done. Photo: AFP/pib

The book revisits the Gujarat pogrom on Narendra Modi’s watch and warns of a past that lies behind the success he has achieved.

The first line may now seem to be politically incorrect. The Bible is not the only scripture, or for that matter an immortal work of literature, to contain lines such as this. But it represents a profound truth—people do not change. Richard Nixon and Morarji Desai defied predictions of change when they reached the pinnacle of power. That truth should worry us now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proved beyond all doubt, in the past 15 months, that the Old Adam lurks inside his skin—the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak; coarse in debate, authoritarian, intolerant, communal to the core, and resolved to recast the polity and rewrite not only the rules of the present system but also the nationally accepted narrative of the past.

This book is indispensable to a proper understanding of the Godhra outrage and the post-Godhra pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 on Modi’s watch. Such an understanding is essential to a fitting response to the challenge that Modi poses to secular democracy. He has skilfully and successfully wielded two weapons—the promise of economic advance and the image of one who gets things done.

The Gujarat pogrom was a crime with a difference. The victims were not rehabilitated fully, and the poison in the atmosphere persists. In this, it differs from the anti-Sikh pogrom in New Delhi in 1984. Modi made a triumphant comeback in successive elections to the State Assembly and capped this with a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.

The author, Dr Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande, recalls that period and writes: “This book seeks to understand and explain these years through the unlikely lens of displacement that centrally engages with the question of whether the communal violence and the displacement it engenders is an aberration in the life of a citizen as it is popularly made out to be or it has larger implications” (emphasis added throughout).

The book is a product of stupendous research, extensive interviews in fieldwork and incisive analysis. The author breaks new ground in citing recent international legislation on internally displaced persons (IDPs). The scholarship so evident in the documentation also stands out in the restraint of her comments.

The author teaches at the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai. She was involved with research for a collaboration between the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the London School of Economics for their volume on “Governance and the Governed”. Her research interests lie in forced migration studies, governance and the state.

In this reviewer’s opinion, it is the sheer volume of forced migration and the Modi regime’s apathy and indifference that highlight the criminality of the pogrom and the state’s conduct. “In 2007 the Antarik Visthapith Hak Rakshak Samiti (AVHRS), i.e. Committee for the Rights of IDPs, held that five years after the violence 25,000 Gujarati Muslims lived scattered across seven districts in Gujarat in approximately 69 colonies entirely constructed by NGOs [non-governmental organisations]. The Government of Gujarat that finally undertook a survey of these relief colonies in response to the queries of the NCM [National Commission for Minorities] held that 86 resettlement colonies existed across 10 districts of Gujarat that housed 3,990 families with a population of 20,940. This does not include displaced Muslims who do not live in relief colonies that the AVHRS called chootachavay, or scattered around areas of Muslim concentration and in the upcoming ghettos of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Anand and Sabarkantha....

“Muslim organisations constructed relief colonies for those displaced who could not return to their original homes and continued to remain in camps well after they were declared closed by the government. While some Muslims returned to their original homes, the number of Muslims in villages and places of Muslim concentration in towns and cities has shot up since 2002, an indication that they have moved in here due to the violence. What makes migration displacement is that it is migration induced by coercion. The element of coercion in the movement of Muslims since 28 February is clear in this presentation of events of the violence of 2002. The journey of Muslims from being vatanis to being identified as visthapit is, therefore, a clear case of displacement as described by the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons.”

The author records in careful detail, on the basis of authentic documents, the orgies of violence that compelled people to leave their hearth and home. Her independence and scholarship lend weight to her comments. Apart from his famous Newtonian apologia for the crimes committed under his very nose, Modi said: “The five crore people of Gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation.” He successfully enlisted the people on his side and radically altered the shape of the State’s politics.

“Among the majority of the middle classes, rich and poor in Gujarat, Narendra Modi has been admired for having stood his ground, and achieving majoritarian justice in the face of what Hindu nationalists decried as the Indian state’s appeasement of the minorities. Since the violence in 2002, the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] led by Narendra Modi, who was projected as the architect of Gujarat’s success, not only consolidated its position in repeated elections in the State but also found admirers particularly among the middle class in post-liberalisation India.” Corporate India rallied around him as did large sections of the media.

“Narendra Modi proved to be popular with the rich and the middle classes across religious communities with his campaign that emphasised change through good governance. That he was in power at the time of the violence in 2002 where a large number of human rights violations occurred was lost on a large part of the electorate for whom he had gone on to achieve success as an able administrator.” This “Gujarat model” is now being replicated in India. There is no knowing how far he will go. This book is of enduring relevance and provides a warning of a past that lies behind the sordid success Modi has achieved.

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