The Light and Darkness of Gujarat

Lighting the Way in India

First, some statistics and some “light”:

Gujarat – Established as a state in 1960, today it is the 7th largest state in terms of area and the 10th largest in population. It is located in Western India above Maharashtra with a coastline of some 1600 miles. Gujarat comprises major sites that are part of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Even though is only the 10th largest, its population exceeds 60 million people. Probably the most revered activist in the world, Mahatma Gandhi, hails from Gujarat.

Ahmedabad has been listed as the third fastest growing city in the world.  Gujarat is the fastest growing state economically in India.

Taken straight from Wikipedia, you can see what Gujarat share of contribution within India is in the following areas:

      • 35% of Petrochemical production
      • 23% of Crude Oil (Onshore)
      • 41% of Chemical products
      • 27% of Groundnut production
      • 15% of Cargo Handling
      • 11% of Cotton production
      • 30% of Natural Gas (Onshore)
      • 18% of Mineral production
      • 25% of Textile production

One of the most efficiently governed states, it boasts modern infrastructure and laudable investments in virtually every arena of services needed by the citizens.  It is really a state apart and an example for others to follow. The highest foreign investment also goes to Gujarat.

No doubt about it, there is much to admire about the economy and the governance of the state of Gujarat.

And Then Some Darkness

However, Gujarat also continues to live with a sad and unfortunate recent historical event, the so-called horrific Godra riots of 2002. All the economic progress of the state does not overcome what happened then. Here’s a brief history in case you are unaware of it:

In Feb 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob as a result of which 58 of them, including women and children, lost their lives. It needs to be mentioned that this was a completely unprovoked act on peaceful Hindu pilgrims.

In retaliation, there was massive communal violence where some 1200+ people (officially) were killed, three fourths of them Muslims. Muslim homes and businesses suffered huge damage. Hindu-Muslim conflicts are not new to India but the scale of this was at an entirely different and disastrous level.

One of many gruesome images of the 2002 Gujarat riots

It has been alleged in a recent Special Investigation Team (SIT) report that the state government was complicit in letting the rioting against and massacre of Muslims rage on without stepping in with law and order, and in some cases, actually encouraging it to happen. After the 2002 riots, Human Rights Watch and the International Religious Freedom Report (by the US Dept of State) both cited and alleged human rights and religious freedom violations against that government.

The government of 2002 is the same government that is heading the state today. The one that is led by BJP party member and Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

But Why Does the Darkness Endure?

The saddest truth appears to be that life for Muslims in the state has never been the same in the almost 10 years since that time. 

Muslims are a minority and are 9-10% of the state’s population; from all of India’s Muslims, about 3.3% live in Gujarat.

The Modi government has boasted about the vibrant Muslim lives in a vibrant Gujarat. Here are some statistics that show how vibrant their lives really are –

  • Muslims’ work participation rate in manufacturing and organised sectors in Gujarat is 13 percent compared to the all- India average of 21 percent
  • Muslims hold 12 percent of all bank accounts, which is proportionate to their population in the state, but their bank loan amount outstanding is 2.6 percent. This means even when Muslims have accounts, they don’t get loans.
  • In 2008, the Centre mandated that minorities should get a 15 percent share of 40 percent that constitutes priority sector lending. In Gujarat, this has hovered around 2-3 percent. In other words, of every Rs 100 of financing, Rs 1 – Rs 1.5 goes to minorities,and of this, a part to Muslims.
  • Urban Muslims in Gujarat are 8 times poorer than upper-caste Hindus; this is twice the national average.
  • The Center’s scheme for minority scholarships was calculated to be over 52,000 for Gujarat. Not a single one has been awarded!  A less developed state like Rajasthan gave double their target of 60,000+ and Bihar doubled its target of 145,000+. In each case, the Center matched their funds bearing 75% of the total cost.  Gujarat: zero.
  • Colonies that were built to resettle victims of the riots resound with issues and complaints of lack of services, infrastructure, ability to get loans, progress, live…
  • For example, there’s a sharp contrast in the types of school facilities in the Muslim areas versus the other lower income areas.
  • Gujarat boasts of more than 90 percent paved roads to remote villages, 98 percent electrification, 86 percent piped water supply and the best of infrastructure in India. But Juhapura, a Muslim dominated colony in Ahmedabad, has no streetlights, water supply or internal roads. How could this be?

There is sense of displacement, frustration, fear and concern among Gujarat’s Muslims, especially the poorer ones. You can read more at this recent article from Outlook. In an article on this topic in Tehelka, this is what one Muslim said about their situation –

“Modi is responsible for two things — in the Hindus, he has sown the fear that without him to watch their backs, the Muslims would slaughter them, and the Muslims, he has managed to terrorise anyway since 2002,” he says. “We have become very afraid of the police; who knows under what case they will have us arrested. Such is the fear that our boys do the namaaz on their own.”

Does this sound like the India you know? If this situation does not describe darkness, I don’t know what does. It does not matter what religious faith you uphold, there is also something called humanity that should underlie it. Humanity does not call for these actions. And that by a government! In a secular India, of all things.

How to Forgive and Forget?

Now, Modi’s ambition is to become the Prime Minister of India. Without showing a modicum of remorse or a hint of apology, he wants to put all of 2002 behind him.  He has issued many denials. He says that Muslims should forget and forgive the past. Life for Muslims in Gujarat is wonderful. Really?

Based on what does he put these events behind him ? With his fast and political farce theater? I don’t think so.

Gujarat has had many areas that have benefited from his leadership. Economic growth, progress and excellent governance. One note on this though. Its not like Gujarat was a regressive state prior to his leadership. Here is one article that puts it in perspective, even if you choose to believe only part of it; prior to Modi, Gujarat was already the 3rd leading state in the nation. This is different from say, Bihar, which was truly a backward state in every way you can think of before Nitish Kumar began to radically transform it a few years ago.

However, no one can or should deny that Modi has built tremendously on the strength that existed in Gujarat. But, for the one big blotch. One hopes that eventually he will make genuine amends with the Muslims in his own state – treat them with respect, dignity and most importantly, equality. That he show by action and deed, if not words, that he really means what he has been saying.

Until then, it’s best that Modi stay put in his state and rule it as well as he can. Gujarat will continue to prosper under his leadership, while giving him more time to make reparations.

India does need his kind of leadership in governance but it cannot handle his controversial legacy of 2002, and his polarization quotient. There is a section of India that has forgiven and forgotten, but there is equally a section of India that is yet to be healed. Interestingly, he is causing divisiveness in his own party with his ambitions for the national stage. While one state can potentially live with his polarizing influence, can the entire nation, one that is and should continue to be secular? Can you imagine the divisions that would erupt all over the country and test the will of an already tenuous Hindu-Muslim relationship?

Modi would do well if he can overcome this ugly history through genuine action for the misplaced and displaced of Gujarat. I believe that it can be done – but unfortunately not with the likes of his recent superficial actions.

Nonetheless and no matter what I think or say, come 2014, it will be in the hands of the voters to decide.  And they will.

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Posted on October 31, 2011, in india and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Rajnesh Sharma

    As you mentioned of godhra riots.riots are evil things all political parties crying for godhra riots what about sikh carnage in 1984 2000+ killed why the allies of cong still standing with them.Shame on them. modi is determined to bring peace and progress to all indians.the congress the only protector of muslims ?still they are poor,uneducated after 65 yrs. mr. modi is true Commander God bless him jai Hind.

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