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Baggage of hate

Almost a year after Gujarat burned, we need to reflect on why we do what we do. Close encounters with real people give us the answer, says BINA SARKAR ELLIAS.



Modi on his gaurav yatra ... riding high after his victory.

NARENDRA MODI is surfing high on his recent victory. He is on a corporate yatra to reiterate his claim that Gujarat has boosted the national income by drawing Rs. 8,000 crores of investment in the last eight months alone. We are to conclude that the post-Godhra carnage awakened a resurgence of faith in one religion, and is rewarded by this deluge of corporate gratuity.

Proclaiming at every such meeting that Gujarat is the most peaceful State in the country, Mr. Modi hopes that the old dictum of an oft-repeated lie becoming truth will prevail. He does not know that you can fool some people some of the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time. He has faith in the brevity of memory, but there are tenacious people out there who cannot be bought, who will eventually trounce a megalomaniac's mission of hate.

Nearing a year since the burning of Gujarat, it is time to reflect why we do what we do. Why a Chief Minister who presided over carnage is re-elected. It is close encounters with real people that mirror the vacuity of arguments that support and lead to the victory of a Narendra Modi. Within the ramblings of these unguarded conversations lie the essence of our follies.

Recently, two citizens of Ahmedabad's high-end business community visited my home. They had contributed in votes to Narendra Modi and were flush with his thumping victory. They were gentrified echoes of the Chief Minister, made to believe that Ahmedabad was in turmoil for merely a few days and the five months of simmering conflict reported by the press was the usual media hype.

"The pro-minority coverage of post-Godhra carnage, the media `accusations' of violent Gujaratis (the most docile people in the nation) and the relentless Modi-bashing, is what really incensed the Gujaratis and plugged the victory," they explained. "Should the elections have taken place soon after Gujarat burned, Narendra Modi would have lost."

It was with their Gujarat-bashing, that ironically, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt ensured the victory for the BJP. Sonia Gandhi sealed it with her presumptuous `Godse's Gujarat' speech. Gujarat would not take this lying down. Modi, knocked about by the media, could still stand his ground. He understood the pulse of his people and the well-timed slogan `Gaurav nu Gujarat' was the winning ticket.

"There have always been communal riots in the State," my friends continued. "In Ahmedabad's walled city, regular eruptions between Hindus and Muslims are common place. Did the media ever cover the skirmishes all these decades? Then why has it suddenly woken up to make such a hideous splash of post-Godhra events, muddying the image of the city?

"Did you know," they continued, "95 per cent of Ahmedabad was unaffected, and just wanted to earn their rokda, get going with their dhanda (even as the last embers were glowing). After all, Gujaratis are a peace-loving community. In fact, it is Modi who revived pride in Hinduism."

Unfazed by their contradiction, they offered: "Gujaratis are the most hardworking, industrious community in India, and Gujarat, the foremost State generating and importing wealth for the nation; it is `that woman' Medha Patkar, for instance, who tried to disrupt our economics with her Narmada Bacchao campaign and it is because of our tough Government having thwarted her that we have enough water today for our homes and our fields. Our farmers have the latest cars and phones."

But what about those whom you have displaced? The homes and lands that are submerged and livelihood snatched away? "Well, those are a mere handful of people. Why think of a handful when ten times their numbers benefit from the water diversion."

"Gujaratis are intrinsically docile, they are vegetarians and wouldn't hurt an insect," they claimed.

Were these the very same docile people who carved a foetus from the womb of an innocent woman, who burned, ravaged and murdered, who converged on department stores during the riots in their cars with cell phones to loot and celebrate the riots? "Well, the carnage was conducted by a faceless frenzied mob and the looters were a breed of `new-money' Gujaratis. Unfortunate, really. It is a question of provocation that leads to aggression."

Would they consider preconceived biases having influenced their conjectures? That we have inherited a knee-jerk response to minorities since Partition? That it suits our governments to keep us in conflict. That textbooks are being re-written to erase historic truth. The response is well practised. "Who says so? What books? It is pseudo-secularists like you who are a danger to the nation."

Do you want to perpetuate the baggage of hate we have inherited, I persist, or do you want a toxin-free world for your children? "Despite the polarisation in Gujarat," they offer, "where even our lift man and the school bus driver constantly raise identity queries, when our daughter asks, `Are Muslims bad people?'; we tell her that all Muslims are not bad. It is governments that make us fight."

We come full circle. So, if governments are the villains then why do we elect a Chief Minister who presided over the most gruesomely engineered Gujarat riots? I am told: He is human. He made a mistake in sanctioning the initial bloodletting. He did not know it would go so out of bloody control. After all, even Gandhiji made mistakes.

(The writer is the Editor, Gallerie. E-mail her at gallerie@vsnl.com)

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