Understanding the road from Gujarat to India

If people don’t act now, ‘Akhand Bharat' will move toward balkanization because a modern secular State with freedom, justice, equity, and fraternity is under threat

Sudarshan Iyengar Jan 02, 2022
Gujarat Vidyapith (Photo: Wikipedia)

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on the ascendant in Gujarat, there was a lot of talk about the so-called “Gujarat model” that could be applied to the entire country. This, of course, was talking about the economic model. But not all Indians had learned about the full package that Modi had promised the people of Gujarat. 'Samruddhi', in the sense of economic prosperity, was only one-half of the promised story. The other half was 'salamati', a Hindustani word that has become a part of the Gujarati language and a way of speaking to denote safety and security. 

But now we appear to dislike anything but a Sanskirtised version. So, there are many telling us how ‘saal-mubarak’ (Urdu for New Year greetings) is not Indian and we must instead use ‘nootan varsh-abhinandan’ (Hindi for New Year greetings) or any other Sanskritised words to wish each other – be it for Diwali or even the turn of the calendar on December 31.
After almost seven years of Modi at the national helm of affairs, Bharat has arrived and has taken hold. Every person, or almost every person it may seem, is now consciously religious and the first lesson that has been internalized is that you cannot afford to be tolerant. The call and consensus are to respond violently to any provocation and go to the extent of extinguishing life by taking the law in your hands. 

Guru Nanak forgotten 

The story of Guru Nanak has receded from folklore and also our collective memory. He travelled with his disciple and follower Mardaana to Mecca. He retired one summer evening in a ‘sarai’ (rest house), or should it be called a ‘dharmashala’ in keeping with the version of “Indianness” that is in vogue. A maulvi (Muslim priest) saw Guru Nanak stretching his legs towards the Kaaba. He reprimanded the Guru. The Guru requested him to lift his legs and put them in the direction that may be the right one. But whichever direction the feet of the Guru turned, the Kaaba appeared to move in that direction. The priest then sought forgiveness from Guru Nanak, the message being that the house of the Lord is everywhere and in all directions. 

From those roots, we have arrived today, when we are ready to lynch and kill the person who has defiled or misbehaved in a gurudwara. Zero tolerance for hurt, real or imagined, to religious sentiments. Punishment is swift: exterminate. This is how we have learned to keep ourselves 'salamat', or safe, secure, sound and protected! 

Welcome to the Gujarat Model, Part II, as it plays out in the ‘Akhand Bharat’ of today. Let us not blame Gandhi. He practiced non-violence and "sarvadharama samabhava" - equal respect for all religions. But we have ingrained violence into the Indian fabric. Further, the version of secularism practiced in the country gave space to intolerance and fanatic elements among certain sections, the disease eventually spreading to most sects and religions. We must come to terms with the picture of a distorted idea of non-violence and secularism that has been promoted and supported for decades. It has willy-nilly led contributed to the present situation. 

Hindutva in Gujarat 

Against this national background, Gujarat came in handy for the Hindu fundamentalists. One can trace how and why Gujarat became a Hindutva laboratory. After the formation of Gujarat state in May 1960, the Patel community that lived largely in rural areas and was engaged in agriculture benefited from the land reforms, especially in Saurashtra. The Patel community is very industrious. With the ownership of land, they could work hard to reap benefits. They did.  

Agriculture improved significantly and the Patels prospered. They became educated and also entered the world of business that was hitherto in the hands of Banias and Brahmins. The profits from non-farm enterprises were invested in agriculture and agriculture surplus was again invested in expanding non-farm businesses. Patels now wanted social and religious recognition, and space in regional politics. This was difficult as Brahmins and Banias had full control.
Patels then turned to the Swaminarayan sect and carved out their socio-religious space. They were yet to get political space. Whatever chance they might have had, the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, and Muslim) alliance and joint strategy in the early 1980s took away. The Congress and secular parties were not open to them either for sharing power. They turned quite easily to the RSS-BJP fold. 

The Patels are not meek or mild-mannered. The RSS-BJP combine was looking for precisely this kind of force to kickstart its run. The Patels were offered space. That is how the Hindutva laboratory was set up in Gujarat. Patels and others who were left out in power-sharing arrangements till that time found welcoming space in the BJP. From 1960 to 1990, the Congress-ruled Gujarat. Except for Chimanbhai Patel and Babubhai Patel, Patels did not get much space.  

KHAM goes, enter Patels 

It was in 1990 when the KHAM strategy threatened to remain strong and upset the entry of the Patels into power structures, Chimanbhai Patel and Keshubhai Patel forged unity and a non-Congress government was formed. The Congress returned, but only for a brief period, in 1994-95. Since then, the BJP has been ruling Gujarat. With political patronage, RSS and extreme Hindutva forces led by select anti-Gandhi upper caste groups became active and culminated in the Gujarat of 2002. Gandhi’s "sarvadharma sambabhava" lost its space completely. 

In 2002, Narendra Modi fought the assembly elections with the promise of providing salamati and samruddhi. In 2014, he fought the national general elections with the promise of samruddhi. It was supposed to be one of a development agenda at work. In the first five years, samruddhi with slogans such as "sabka saath, sabka vikaas" (Government for all, development for all) were made popular. However, the forces that were let loose in the country, especially the cow-belt (now extended to Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka) after Gujarat 2002, played out in the open by perpetrating violent suppression of the minorities. And the leader maintained his mystical silence. 

Come the 2019 general elections, and the theme returned. Akhand Hindu-rashtra (nation) is now the dream and the leader brought in his infamous lieutenant to command the inner policing and law and order of the country and the team became formidable. Gujarat cooled down after 2002 because the followership was out of fear, and people in Gujarat people generally don't indulgence in violence as they focus more on running businesses. The communal violence that was unleashed under the alleged State support by the Gujarat Hindutva laboratory was bad, but its mutation in other states, especially the cow belt, took on even more virulent forms and continues to play havoc.  

The ‘ganga-jamuni tehazeeb’ (syncretic culture) stands severely damaged and the imagined ‘akhand bharat-varsh’ (undivided Hindu nation) that is supposed to have existed 1,200 years back under the Hindu 'sanskriti' is now blown to smithereens. If the people of Hindustan do not act now, Sardar Patel’s ‘Akhand Bharat' (Undivided India) will move toward balkanization. The merchant of dreams cannot continue to call the tunes forever. A modern secular State with freedom, justice, equity, and fraternity is under threat and so are its citizens (Courtesy: The Billion Press)

(The writer is a noted Gandhian economist and the former vice chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, a university founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920. The views expressed are personal and not necessarily shared by editors of South Asia Monitor. He can be contacted at editor@thebillionpress.org) 

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