The violence which wracked the western Indian state of Gujarat ten years ago has almost become a metaphor for a particular aspect of India’s contemporary reality. The metaphor is described differently, depending on whether one is a supporter of Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi or an opponent. One part of that metaphor is surely the organised killings of 2002 and the subsequent decade long politics of brazen communal mobilisation which have come to define Modi’s politics and perhaps even Gujarat. Modi supporters range from those who are proud of the killings to those who make apologetic noises but find excuses to water down the gravity of the crime. These killings and the continued violence, both physical as well as indirect and invisible, have been highlighted endlessly by those who support justice and communal harmony but has done little to dent Modi’s political support, which extends well beyond Gujarat to include leading lights of Indian capitalism and a fawning urban middle class who are voluble cheerleaders for Modi’s campaign to become India’s prime minister.
These killings and the subsequent unrepentant bravado show him to be someone who can and will subvert every institution of State through his divisive agenda to further his politics. However, for most of his supporters, his role in these killings and subsequent refusal to even reconcile are an illustration of his qualities as an “iron-man” who does not waver in the achievement of his goals.
What has successfully been projected as Modi’s aim is the economic development of Gujarat which has found acceptance even among those who remain strongly critical of his role in the 2002 killings. It is now widely accepted that Gujarat under Modi has become a leading destination for capital investment and if there were any doubts about the 2002 violence reducing investments and economic activity, the past decade has laid that to rest. Those opposed to him point to the exaggerations and the spin in this story of economic growth and highlight the presence of major inequality, poverty and destitution in the state.
Lets go back a bit in history to understand how and why Modi became a metaphor for India’s quest for development and modernity.
A decade ago Modi was a relatively minor Bharatiya Janata Party leader when he was parachuted into the Gujarat chief minister’s chair to try and stem the electoral / political slide of the BJP in the state. With elections just about a year later many commented that Modi had been dumped with the job no one wanted – to oversee the defeat of the BJP in the state elections. It is a testament to his political prowess that he planned and implemented an almost impossible turn-around in the fortunes of the BJP in Gujarat. The polarisation resultant from the 2002 killings helped him win the election that year but his subsequent victories have been due to the powerful social bloc he has welded into a political support base.
Modi’s success is his ability to bring to a closure the ongoing “counter-revolution” of the upper-castes like Brahmins and dominant castes like Patidar/Patels of Gujarat which began in the 1980s as a reaction to the successful mobilisation of the lower castes and marginalised social groups, popularly termed the KHAM, by the Congress in the 1970s. KHAM stood for Kshatriya (who are a backward caste in Gujarat), Harijan (another term for the former “untouchables” and present day Dalits), Adivasi (tribals) and Muslims.
Modi’s success has been to build up an alternative social bloc, led by the Patidars and Brahmins, which also includes the Kshatriyas and significant sections of the Dalits and Adivasis. Hindutva provided the glue which brought the divergent socio-economic interests of the Brahmins and Patidars together with those of the upwardly mobile lower status groups. However, the welding of these divergent interests into one solid social – political bloc was enabled by the ability of the upwardly mobile sections of the Kshatriyas, Dalits and Adivasis to partake of the bounty of economic growth. By its very nature this is a brittle alliance, however strong it may appear. The hatred and violence against Muslims and visceral anger against anyone who threatens to break this cross-class alliance compensates for the brittleness of this social bloc and thus remains central to Modi’s politics.
Modi is a metaphor of how the dominant castes and classes can use economic growth to forge an alliance with some social groups whose socio-economic interests do not converge with theirs, on an agenda which reinforces the former’s dominance. Unfortunately for the BJP, and the various industrialists and middle class fan-boys of Modi, this is a feature unique to Gujarat and unlikely to be successfully replicated in other states, as the electoral history of the past decade illustrates. Unfortunately for the victims of Modi’s model, this political social bloc seems solid for the next elections in Gujarat at least and thus makes justice and reconciliation nearly impossible outside of the strictures of the higher judiciary.
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Finally here is a poll for you:
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This was published in the 4 March 2012 edition of The News on Sunday, Lahore.