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Struggle for Gujarat's soul
18 Nov 2007, 0000 hrs IST
Not long ago we thought of Gujarat as the land of non-violent Mahatma Gandhi and hard-working merchants. That picture has grown more complicated. Gujarat has emerged as an Asian tiger - the fastest growing Indian state with the lowest levels of unemployment, the most investor friendly, with the shortest red tape and least petty corruption. It is hailed by migrants from Bihar and MP as a land of opportunity.
Gujarat, however, is also the Indian state which hosted a genocide under broad daylight in 2002. Those who presided over the killings were elected to power. Their complicity has now been confirmed by the recent Tehelka expose. The political class, however, has greeted the expose with silence. Ashish Khetan, author of the report, must feel a bit like Draupadi in the assembly of the nobles at Hastinapur, when no one, not even Bhishma, stopped her from being disrobed. For five years we have heard charges and counter-charges in Gujarat.
Next month Gujarat’s voters will have to decide. Should they reward Narendra Modi for a genuine economic miracle that is lifting so many out of poverty? Or should they draw a line, as India’s voters did after Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, and roundly punish him for the terrible communal violence of 2002? A new book by an eminent American philosopher helps one understand Gujarat’s dilemma.
Martha Nussbaum’s The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence & India’s Future (Permanent Black) argues that the post 9/11 world is not some mythic ‘‘clash of civilisations’’ (as Samuel Huntington has argued) between a violent Islam and peaceful democracies in America, Europe, and India.
It is a clash within the mind of each one of us - each human being - as we oscillate between self-protective aggression and our ability to live with others. Nussbaum points out that there are two sorts of human beings, and they can be found in all nations. The first (and i think the majority) are self-confident, and like Mahatma Gandhi, they do not fear differences. They respect those who are dissimilar and are happy to let them flourish; self-assured in the robustness of their own way of life.
The second, however, are like another Gujarati, Narendra Modi, who fear religious and ethnic differences and the idea of a plural society. They believe that minorities are a deep threat to order and safety, and are anxious to control them. Congress’ politics of appeasing minorities has given space to the second type to rise in India’s democratic politics. The memory of Ghazni is also strong in Gujarat, and even Mahatma Gandhi’s example has been unable to erase it. Why don’t we condemn Godhra’s massacre in the same breath, they ask rightly? Yet, the second group’s ethos is so un-Indian in our astonishingly diverse society.
What is at stake in the upcoming Gujarat election is thus a clash inside each citizen’s imagination, and it comes down to how we view other human beings. Politics makes one adopt polarised positions. The reality is that Gujarat is both prosperous and genocidal. One wants Gujarat to flourish but also to be decent. Nazi Germany was very efficient. The choice in the end is easy - vote out Modi! For a person who has just climbed out of poverty, however, it may not be so easy.
Ideally, one should throw out the rascals but keep their good policies, but one can’t trust Congress to do that. Gujarat, like India, is in the midst of a hundred flowerings. Some of these have turned out to be noxious and the only way out in a democracy is to remove the toxic ones at the polls.