March 5, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Achyut Yagnik

Achyut Yagnik, a socio-political analyst based in Ahmedabad, has studied the Ayodhya movement in depth, having co-authored the book Creating a Nationality: Ramjanambhoomi Movement and the Fear of the Self. Here he discusses the Gujarat carnage with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt. Excerpts:

Can you throw some light on the incident in Godhra?

I think there was a large-scale mobilisation of VHP people in Ahmedabad. Inspired by Pravin Togadia they were going to Ayodhya. VHP has the strongest base in Gujarat. The atmosphere was surcharged. I would compare this incident with the Bombay blasts of 1992. This was a retaliation by Muslim fundamentalists.

What was the provocation here?

The mobilisation at Ayodhya was the provocation. Karsevaks were going to Ayodhya with the support of BJP MLAs and MPs. The railways too obliged by giving three extra bogies. One should not forget that at the grassroots level the Sangh Parivar is one. The central and state governments had not taken any serious action to stop this mobilisation.

Naturally, when karsevaks pass through such semi-tribal belts, they become a soft target for Muslim fundamentalists. We have to condemn their violence. But no one would buy the [George] Fernandes line that this is an ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] act. This is the result of the mindset of Muslims. It's the result of the wounded ego of Muslims. It is the same for the BJP. Wounded egos are on both sides.

Muslims are feeling dejected over the development in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the BJP is down because of the drubbing in the recent elections. The situation is complex. There is a contradiction between the VHP and Sangh Parivar on one side and the BJP at the Centre. In Delhi they have to defend the government and retain power.

Most important to remember while discussing today's violence is that in the 1990 rathyatra of Advani, the present [Gujarat] CM [Narendra] Modi and Home Minister Gordhan Zadafia were very close to Advani. People who are in charge of law and order are riding the tiger they have created. They are now being asked to control it. I am talking about the VHP, which is the creation of Modi. He outlined the broader philosophy behind it with senior Sangh leaders.

Godhra was a highly incendiary incident.

Agreed. But we cannot put law and order aside. I am ashamed of being a Gujarati, ashamed to see the carnage that has followed Godhra.

No one can justify the violence in Godhra. But I expect law and order in my country. On February 28 the writ of the police commissioner was just not there in Ahmedabad. Just near the police commissioner's office you burn down a masjid, you burn down the state secretariat near the CM's office! Where is the government? Where is governance? How far can you go to take revenge?

Do you think Gujaratis knew that something like this would follow Godhra?

Yes, yes. Many predicted it. We have a communal history.

Can you throw some light on the Gujarati mob mentality?

Read Gujarati newspapers. They are the mirror image of mob mentality. They are justifying everything under the excuse of retaliation! It's interesting to note... sorry, that's a wrong word... It's paradoxical to note that on the one hand middle-class people are justifying the Hindu retaliation, but are not very much happy in their hearts to see the violence. On the other, the Sangh Parivar crowd, which too justifies Hindu retaliation, is too happy about the development.

The story of the kidnapped girl and a woman whose breasts were cut are bogus. Newspapers have corrected their version without an apology. These stories were fed by people who are happy about the degree of retaliation. The CM and home minister in Gujarat were not just complacent; neither did they just misread the situation. They are VHP people. Both have the VHP mindset. Both belong to the middle class who would be happy about the violence if Hindus retaliated. Eye for an eye is the primitive concept, and the VHP believes in it.

Why is it that most Gujaratis do not like the word 'secular'?

In the '80s, the Gujarati middle class was struggling for an identity. They found an identity in the form of Hindutva as propagated by the Sangh Parivar. They could not find the religious identity in the Bhakti tradition that they were following since many generations. Gandhian traditions now don't play any part in their life. In Gujarat there are a number of flourishing sects competing with each other. They too have contributed to the VHP mindset of Gujaratis.

The divide between urban and rural areas is not as much as in Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh. For a number of families, one foot is in the village and another in the city. All these combine to make one big group.

The NRI Gujaratis have also played a big role. They feel like second-class citizens over there. They are in search of a meaningful identity. NRIs have to prove their identity in a foreign land and they find the answer in supporting Hindutva.

Are Gujarati Muslims different from others?

After the 1992 riots Muslim professionals have withdrawn into themselves or migrated to the West. And the lower class is as bad or as good as any others.

You still have not explained Gujarat's violent mindset which is not visible otherwise.

See, because of Mahatma Gandhi there is a widespread perception that Gujaratis are peace-loving. Because of the freedom struggle and non-violence movement this notion has solidified. But we are like any other part of India. We had feudalism, we had the tradition of female infanticide, most of us are non-vegetarians. We are not just traders. It's an absolutely wrong notion. The majority of us are dalits and backwards, not business people as India thinks. We have a bloody tradition of Hindu-Muslim riots. I don't think we are different. We are as normal as Indians are.

Does the VHP have the same kind of support in Gujarat as it had before?

I think the VHP will have to come down on their demand in their talks with the Centre. See, without the BJP in power what is left for the VHP? What can they do? They will settle for a compromise. I very much think so.

Modi and Zadafia in Gandhinagar are unaware that if you allow the police to be lenient you will lose power at the Centre. At the end of the day it's a question of governance. When the police commissioner's orders are not obeyed that means the government is not functioning. The mobs have struck at the economy of Gujarat badly, don't forget that. People have been desensitised, and that's a real tragedy. The way Modi was defending the violence was very shameful. I feel Gujarat is not safe in the hands of Narendra Modi.

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