The Hindutva experiment

Published : May 01, 2002 00:00 IST

DURING the last two months and more of mayhem, questions regarding the extent to which the Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindutva ideology has permeated the public mind have sprung up. In order to understand how the BJP has been able to mobilise different sections of society from the Patidars (or Patels) to Dalits and other backward classes (OBCs), it is necessary to look at Gujarat's history of communal violence.

The earliest recorded riot here dates back to 1714 during Mughal rule - it occurred in Ahmedabad. It was sparked by a minor incident - the accidental sprinkling of 'ghulal' during the Holi festival, according to the V.S. Dave Commission report on the 1985 riots. Several riots took place during the Maratha rule, which lasted until 1817. During the British Raj, riots broke out in 1941, following which the Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended. It also marked the time when Ahmedabad's Muslims started supporting the Muslim League. In 1946, trouble broke out in the city again. In post-Independence India, there were riots in Ahmedabad in 1958, 1965 and 1969. The 1969 riots were also sparked by a minor event but led to one of the bloodiest riots in Gujarat.

In a chapter in the book Creating a Nationality, social activist Achyut Yagnik attributes the rise of Hindutva in the State to the rise of the rapidly growing urban middle class in search of a new identity. Tracing the rise of the BJP from the 1980s, he illustrates how it has managed to mobilise Patels, Banias, the OBCs and Dalits under a common Hindutva banner in a span of 20 years. Yagnik points out that the Congress split in 1969 changed caste equations in the State. When the Congress (I) swept to power in 1980 using the electoral combine of KHAM (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims), the political clout of the upper castes and Patidars was eroded. "Between 1976 and 1980, the Congress(I) leadership in Gujarat virtually eliminated Brahmins, Banias and Patidars from core positions in the party. For the first time in history, not a single Patidar Minister was of Cabinet rank." (The last 10 years have seen a Patidar resurgence in State politics.)

The backlash from Brahmins, Banias and Patidars took the form of an anti-reservation agitation in 1981. They objected to the reservation system that gave Dalits access to medical and engineering colleges. It led to riots in which Dalits were targeted in 18 of Gujarat's 19 districts. During these riots, Muslims sheltered Dalits, in some instances. The second anti-reservation riots were in 1985. "Although the agitation was against the hike in job quotas for the OBCs in government and educational institutions, the victims were all Dalits," says Yagnik.

However, by the mid-1980s, the BJP changed its stand towards Dalits in a bid to co-opt them. Realising the largeness of the number of Dalits and Scheduled Tribe and OBC persons in the State, who together account for 75 per cent of the population, the BJP started attempts to unite all castes under the Hindutva plank. It corrected its anti-reservation stand and was able to reap the gains of this move. When riots broke out in 1986 during Ahmedabad's annual Jagannath rath yatra, the BJP managed to garner the support of the OBCs and Dalits. This marked a shift in its support base.

When riots broke out all over Gujarat in 1990 during L.K. Advani's rath yatra, Dalits and middle class Hindus were set against Muslims. The 1990 riots showed that the communal divide had deepened considerably, says Yagnik. Incidentally, the man who spearheaded the rath yatra campaign in Gujarat was none other than the present Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, who was then the general secretary of the State BJP. Also, it was after 1990 that the process of ghettoisation got under way in all three areas of Ahmedabad - the old walled city, the industrial mill areas and the new middle class and elite town. The 1992 riots after the demolition of the Babri Masjid ghettoised the city further. The current round of violence is likely to cause even further spatial segregation of the two communities.

Another explanation for Hindutva's growing base in Gujarat is offered by labour researcher Jan Bremen, who attributes it to globalisation and the manner in which capitalism has grown in the State. The informalisation of Ahmedabad's workforce following the closure of its textile mills resulted in the pauperisation of the workers. Sections among these marginalised workers, mainly Dalits, are part of the Sangh Parivar's lumpen elements. Bremen says in a recent essay: "Gujarat could be understood as an experiment for trying out what will happen to state and society under a policy regime which does not attempt to harness the most brutal consequences of a market-led mode of capitalist production. The total eclipse of Gandhian values... has also led to the shrinking of social space. The disappearance of a climate leaning towards social democracy and tolerance has been accompanied by an increase in communal hate politics." Tracing the roots of ghettoisation, Bremen says it accelerated after the decline of the Mazdoor Mahajan Sangh founded by Mahatma Gandhi. Terming the State's economic growth pattern as one of "lumpen capitalism", he says that this kind of development is based on an ideology of "social-Darwinism", which shows little concern for the urgent need to raise labour standards or the dignity of the working poor. He likens the economic boycott and targeting of Muslims to the initial phase of the Nazi regime.

While the recent communal violence has often been portrayed as a Dalit vs. Muslim one, Martin Macwan, director of the Navsarjan Dalit network, points out that this is not necessarily true. People from all castes and classes participated in the rioting, including the elite, who looted shopping centres. He adds that since Dalits and Muslims (who comprise the poorest sections of the working class) are often neighbours, situations of insecurity and tension are perceived as those in which the two communities are pitted against each other. "The image of Dalits and Muslims as warring factions is well calculated to benefit Hindu dominance," he says. Since the Dalit movement is now in a political vacuum, the Sangh Parivar has exploited the frustration of the Dalit youth to mobilise for its Hindutva campaigns, Macwan adds.

In the Adivasi areas of Panchmahal, Dahod and Sabarkantha, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP introduced their communal politics with the Ram temple campaign in 1990. Just before the violence broke out, they had organised mass "Trishul campaigns" and "Adivasi reconversions" in these areas. It comes as no surprise, then, that in many places Bhil Adivasi mobs were instigated to attack.

The latest violence is unique in terms of the manner and scale of planning involved as well as the subversion of state machinery to shield the culprits. Only history will tell what results the fascist Hindutva experiment will throw up.

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