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Mainstream, VOL LX No 18, New Delhi, April 23, 2022

Ram Puniyani on Bremen and Shah’s Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism

Friday 22 April 2022


Book Review by Ram Puniyani

Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism

by Jan Breman and Ghanshyam Shah

Tulika Books, New Delhi
2022. 388 Pages
Price: Rs. 1200
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 819505594X
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-8195055944

India has witnessed communal violence from over a century. The Gujarat carnage stands out as a major blot in the series of acts of violent episodes for more reasons than one. This was a state where even before the massive carnage of 2002 shook the country phrase, ‘Gujarat as a Laboratory of Hindu Rashtra’ was already in the air. Gujarat carnage emerged as a massive violence where state Government was practically sponsoring it in more ways than one. The ruling party’s associates were ready with the lists of minority households and establishments which were to be targeted. These were attacked in a systematic way. The horrific stories of violence against women were analyzed by academics and social workers, revealing the patriarchal mindset of communal forces. The apathetic state left the victims to their fate totally denying them proper rehabilitation and justice. This led to ghettotisation in a big way, in proportions unprecedented so far.

This was the prelude to social reconstruction in which minorities were not only ghettoized they were marginalized from the affairs of the state. To cap it the chief executive in the name of Vikas, handed over the facilities to the Corporate-industrialists and propagated ‘Gujarat Model of development’. The propaganda was massive and it did help in winning the national elections for Modi.

There are many studies which have tried to grapple with the deeper dynamics of state and various facets of carnage. The study under review is a tall contribution by renowned academics and is not only comprehensive but also goes to the history and deeper sociological dynamics to bring forth the phenomenon, which in a way was the landmark in the history of progression of Hindu nationalist politics.

The book is anthology of relevant essays written by the author duo over a period of last five decades. They observe, “Gujarat became the designated laboratory for disrupting the halting trend towards greater equality and preventing it from getting greater momentum. The surreptitious march towards Hindutva hegemony surfaced not earlier than mid 1980s in every day politics in post-Independent India. Taking charge of civil society and governance in Gujarat from 1990s, the state came to be hailed as Hindutva model of transformative change.”(Page 1) They argue that Hindutva politics invents and conceptualizes religion centric cultural community versus imagined others.

The essay by Shah (Colonial Modernity and Construction of Community) traces the history of Gujarat and very aptly elaborates the diversity amongst Hindus as well as Muslims. Amongst Hindus we have various prevalent caste hierarchies. Among Muslims we have Sunni, Bohra, Ismaili, Khoja, Dawoodi Bphra, Sorti, PAthan, Khatri, Ghanchi and Chippa. Like other places in India Gujarat also witnessed the syncretic traditions and had local variants of Bhakti and Sufi Sects such as Kabir, Ramanandi and Pranami sects among them. One recalls that Gandhi’s mother belonged Pranami sect.

Currently the debate on Hinduism and Hindutva has not only dominated at ideological level but the current politics has been heavily defined around this. Shah does well to tell us that Savarkar defines Hindutva or Hinduness in terms of ‘nation’; it is not identical with Hinduism, ‘Hinduism is merely as derivative, fraction of Hindutva…Hindutva embraces all departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of Hindu race… (Page 21). In contrast to Hindu-Muslim binary of RSS, Gandhi had pointed out “The Hindus flourished under Muslim Sovereigns and Muslims under Hindus. Each party recognized that their mutual fighting was suicidal and that neither party would abandon its religion” (page 25). In a tight and very profound summary on the topic of Hindu nationalism Shah is able to bring out the essence of rising Indian nationalism during freedom struggle and the divisive ideology of RSS. While Indian nationalism is all inclusive, RSS ideology is sectarian and divisive.

Gandhi is the object of criticism for his supporting Khilafat movement. Many keep blaming that Gandhi brought religion into politics. Shah quotes Sardar Patel on this, “If Hindus wish to have friendship with Muslims, they have to participate in [Khilafat] movement’ (Page 26). Gandhi practiced religion which again was all inclusive in contrast to the Muslim Nationalists or Hindu nationalists. Shah’s observation about Nehru’s failure to restructure the Congress post Independence; in tune with his vision of society is very profound as it gives the hint about failure of Congress to resist the rise tide of communal politics, well orchestrated by RSS in post Independence India particularly during last four decades.

Communal violence had its own logic in different parts of the country. In Vadodara, the hint of the social thought process which looked down upon Muslims is elaborated in detail. This is just a sample as in most places where communal violence is orchestrated; same model is implemented with some variations. Ahmadabad had been witnessing riots right from 1930s, but these were low in intensity. In Vadoara riots of 1969 there was a widespread perception that Muslims were responsible for their own backwardness. They should either merge with Hindus or leave for some Islamic country. In Vadodara riots ‘Quit India’ posters for Muslims were very much on display. In his opinion on prevention of violence Shah makes a very pertinent point that a major source of prejudices is pattern of socialization. So it is very crucial that policies in education should encourage secular values. Unfortunately this is something totally opposite of which is currently on display. Many a school texts like those of Dinanath Batra of RSS; in Gujarat and introduction Gita as a curriculum in the school syllabi will surely communalize the social space.

In the current pessimistic scenario it is difficult to imagine that syncretic traditions will be enhanced. There are always pleasant exceptions. Jan Breman in his essay, ‘Rural Impressions of Mumbai Carnage’ tells a very fascinating incident. “Only a mile from Gandevigam lies the shrine of Naseeruddin Baba. On the day of my arrival in the village, the annual festival was being held. It was a special occasion this year the tomb of the pir has been covered with a roof, donated by a wealthy Bania”. The intense propaganda against Christian missionaries is well brought out. One recalls Vajpayee’s statement that there is a need for national debate on conversions. The activists of Hindu Jagran Manch, and organization of Shabri Kumbh was aimed at Hindukaran of Adivasis. Swami Aseemanand, who was later accused in bomb blast cases also, was active in this area. The Shabri temple and promotion of Hanuman as the icon of Adivasis was very much a plan to counter the influence of Christian missionaries in the area. The promotion of these two icons for Adivasi areas is also a message for Adivasis. Shabri was a poor women, and Hanuman was Bhakt of Ram. Adivasis are to emulate these icons. Various activities of Hindu Jagran Manch, VHP and affiliates did lead to scattered acts of violence against missionaries in this area.

Jan Breman carefully tells the story of ghettotisation in Ahmedabad. In the social engineering process unleashed by Hindu nationalists, dalits came to ally with upper caste. This social alliance targeted the Muslims. Juhapura gradually became a refuge of Muslims, who were intimidated in other areas of the city. Sadly ‘borders’ sprung up outside these ghettoes like of Juhapura. One of the despicable phenomenons of Gujarat violence was the refusal of Hindu doctors to treat the Muslims, something which violates the oath a doctor takes at the beginning of her/his medical career. The intensity of Hate, which leads to ghettoisation gets well reflected in the observation of Breman that most Muslims are regarded as disloyal, which calls for degrading them to second class citizenship.

In a very disturbing incident Breman also meets a Muslim in ghetto. His two sons are in military, the third one was killed in IKPF operation in Sri Lanka. To cap it all both his daughters are married to military Jawans. Breman makes a very pertinent observation that Hay Ram was the last words of Gandhi and Jai Shri Ram has been made a war cry against Muslims today!

Saints like Pandurang Shastri Athwaley, Aasaram Bapu (now in jail) and Morari Bapu occupy an important place in Gujarat civil society. They did play their important role in bringing dalits close to RSS scheme of things. The most of RSS Combine leaders swear by the ideology of Deendayal Upadhyay. It is called Integral Humanism. As per this thinking all the Hindu caste are different limbs of the Hindu society and supplement each other despite their different place in the body. This is regarded as the core ideology of Hindu nationalism. To achieve this RSS has floated Samajik Samrasta Manch, which plays an important role in co-opting the dalits in the RSS view of society. Shah points out RSS never raise voice against atrocities on Dalits and OBC but drums up Hindu unity through various conduits. It is this which explains as to how dalits/Adivasis played the role of Foot Soldiers of majoritarian violence. It is this which also explains the electoral success of BJP in dalit majority areas at places. If anything explains the shrewdness of RSS, it is this cooption of Dalit OBCs for its agenda of Hindu Rashtra, where dali-OBC will permanently be on the lower layers of social hierarchy.

Gujarat playing the lead role in the downhill journey to Hindu nation is explained well by the absence of any radical movement, left; liberal; socialist in Gujarat. The influence of Gandhians who believe in harmony and accept diversity has radically shrunk in Gujarat. The role the closure of textile mills in Ahmadabad is also very important.

What this profoundly scholarly work is missing is the postscript, which can give a brief peep into the rise of this phenomenon of Hindu Nationalism and becoming the hegemonic force all over the country and its qualitative change during last few years. It is contribution, which is an essential part of in depth understanding of the nationalism, which is confronting the Indian Nationalism and Indian Constitution with full force. The insights of the work are remarkable and a must for all those who wish to grapple with darkness of the tunnel trough which we are passing currently.

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