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Gujarat Cannot and Must Not Become the Future of India


First, in February 2002, came news of the Hindu Right’s renewed campaign to build a temple at the site of the destroyed 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, in northern India. In 1992, the leaders of the Hindu Right’s political party, the BJP, joined with thousands of cadre who destroyed the mosque, as the might of the state became complicit bystanders. The issue of the mosque played a key role in the emergence of the BJP as the main force in the current coalition government that rules in India. As the BJP cannot fulfill its pledge to build a temple to Ram on the site, mainly because of the hesitancy of its coalitional allies, it has encouraged its ideological allies (the Sang Parivar, joint family, which we in the movement call the Jung Parivar, war family) to push the temple issue. Periodically these organs of the Right, mainly the VHP or World Hindu Council, arrive in Ayodhya, make a show of force, and meanwhile continue to stockpile materials for the temple of their conception. In February, one such trainload of VHP workers stopped in the largely Muslim town of Godhra. A fracas at the station resulted in an attack on the train, and tragically, fifty-eight people died.

Then, shortly thereafter, came word that the state government of Gujarat, where the violence took place, unleashed the cadre of the Hindu Right to take “revenge” on Godhra, again as the machinery of law and order stood down. The state government claimed that six hundred people had been killed in the state-engineered pogrom, while the relief groups in the camps claim that the number cannot be less than two thousand. Even as the Chief Minister Narendra Modi justified the carnage as revenge, no retaliatory violence took place in Godhra – a town otherwise well known for sectarian tensions. Just as the train was attacked on 27 February, District Magistrate Jayanthi Ravi dispatched the police to prevent any violence. Such an act should provoke apprehension, because in many parts of India the forces of the state have been complicit in acts of terror, but in this case Ms. Ravi’s decision saved the lives of many in the days to come. The police fired into the crowd, killed two people in the melee, and then held the population down by a curfew. It would of course have been better if civilian defense committees held the peace, but in the maw of violence, it is hard to be driven entirely by one’s programmatic wishes.

If Godhra went relatively unscathed, the city of Ahmedabad became a war zone. The cadres of the Hindu Right went door to door, killing Muslims and calling upon the population to boycott Muslim shops and workers. Just as thousands of Muslims fell on the sword of Hindu fascism, the VHP circulated a pamphlet calling upon the population to destroy the ability of the survivors to life: “Economic boycott is the only solution! The anti-national elements use the money earned from the Hindus to destroy us! They buy arms! They m olest our sisters and daughters! The way to break the backbone of these elements is: An economic non-cooperation movement.” The elements of this movement included a boycott of Muslim owned shops (“from needle to gold, I shall not buy anything made by Muslims, neither shall we sell them things made by us”), of Muslim workers (“do not hire them”) and of Muslim entertainers (“whole-heartedly boycott films in which Muslim hero-heroines act! Throw out films produced by these anti-nationals!”).

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the All-India Democratic Women’s Association sent a delegation to the state right after the violence abated. The report released by the delegation offers an insightful account of the horror. In Ahmedabad, the delegation writes, “The rioters were armed with swords and other weapons like iron and wooden rods and well-equipped with inflammable material. They came in waves and seemed very organised and prepared. When they could not demolish certain structures, they brought trucks and drove them into their targets. A 12-13 year-old boy, Basheer, was shot dead. The police shot Sageer Ahmed dead and his body was later burnt by the mob. We were told that about 35 in this area had been killed and about 500 injured. They named Bapu Jhadapiya the brother of the Gujarat Home Minister, Goverdhan Jhadapiya and said that he had been openly moving with the police and directing the mobs. They also mentioned Bharat Rana, an RSS [the fascist brigade of the Hindu Right] supporter and Siti Cable owner or operator (this was a bit uncertain) and said that they and others had all been using mobile phones during the attack. They also said that some badly affected areas fell under the Central Home Minister, L.K. Advani’s [the doyen of the right-wing] parliamentary constituency, so how could they hope for justice. They asked how he could look after and protect the country when he could not protect those who lived in his constituency. They mentioned that even on the day that he visited looting and burning were continuing.”

Numerous commentators wrote of the state-engineered pogrom immediately after the fires began to die down, although there are notices of continual violence in some regions of Gujarat. Most of the commentary bemoaned the rise of the Hindu Right and condemned the government (both at the state and central level) for its complicity in both the violence and in its attempt to color the attack on the train as an act of “terrorism.” If the attacks on the train mainly by Muslims are terrorism, then when the state named the organized violence by Hindu fascist bands “spontaneous retaliation,” it essentially invited its cadre to take to the streets.

Two points escaped most of the discussion, however. First, that the state engineered violence did not exceed the bounds of Gujarat, a rich state in western India, in many ways the showpiece of export-oriented neoliberalism. Even in Gujarat, the violence took place in zones where the Hindu Right is politically strong. In 1992-93, the violence after the destruction of the mosque spread across north India, from Bombay to Bihar. How do we explain the relatively confined space for the pogrom other than that the Hindu Right did not feel strong enough to send it cadre out on the streets across the country? Or is this a sophisticated form of fascism, eager to appear democratic on the world stage, but yet with the ability to allow its cadre to inflict strategic does of pain on its adversaries every once and a while? Second, the timing of the violence allowed the Hindu Right to do push its anti-terrorist bill (POTO) through the parliament and it allowed the budget to go forth without much nation-wide discussion. The unions and the Left put up a stand against the neoliberal budget and the continued cannibalization of the state, but the liberal-left elements abandoned this aspect of the struggle for a total immersion in the Gujarat pogroms. In the US media, reports depicted the violence as radically outside the logic of globalization. How do we explain that the Hindu Right is the main agent for the sale of the people’s wealth in a Russian-Sachs style fire sale under the eye of the main ideologue of anti-Muslim fascism, the Minister of Disinvestment Arun Shourie? Can we create a gulf between those who organize the pogroms and those who sell public infrastructure to the highest bidder? These are the votaries of McJihad, the agents of world history who sell off the gains of import substitution while cloaked in the mantle of cultural nationalism. Without a program for the betterment of people’s lives, the Hindu Right turns to spectacular acts of violence to occlude its utter implication in corporate terrorism. Indeed, one must not forget that it was the Hindu Right, during its 13 days in power in 1996 that signed the entry papers for Enron into India.

With Gujarat, we grieve. With Enron and Argentina, we celebrate the defeat of neoliberalism’s showcase firm and government. These are our dialectical poles, on a vast planetary canvas, taking us out both from a racist lack of comprehension about violence in India (the horror, the horror) and from despondency about the violence that leads, sometimes, into a free pass for the neoliberal fire-sale.

Copies of the AIDWA/CPM report are available with me, so please send me a message.

To join in the effort to assist those who are in the relief camps, please send money to: India Relief and Education Fund, P.O. Box 1436, Fremont, CA 94539. Please make out checks to IREF. Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by the law. IREF is 501 (c) tax-exempt organization http://iref.homestead.com/

[forthcoming book, Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism, Common Courage Press and Zed Books, by early Summer 2002]

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