Gujarat is a state in western India bordering Pakistan and the Arabian Sea with an area of 196,024 km2 (75,685 sq. mi.) and a population of over 50 million. Mahatma Gandhi was born, lived, and developed much of his philosophy of non-violence here, and according to tradition, Lord Krishna (though born in Uttar Pradesh) lived most of his life and established his kingdom here. The capital is Gandhi Nagar, but the largest city and former capital is Ahmedabad with a population of 3.5 million.

Religion is primarily Hindu, with a substantial Muslim and Jain minority. The Gujarati diet is strictly vegetarian for most Hindus. Gujarati is also the dialect spoken in this state.

Unfortunately, Gujarat has been the center of many calamities in recent times. On January 26, 2001, one of the worst earthquakes in India's history struck, killing nearly 20,000, injuring many more and displacing hundreds of thousands. This earthquake was centered in Bhuj and measured 7.6 on the Richter scale. Then beginning in spring of 2002, the Hindu-Muslim riots and violence killed hundreds in in Gujarat and brought life to a standstill in many cities.

I must write about the communal riots mentioned above.

Please read my node on the RSS for a description of the right-wing fascist organizations active in India today. Collectively, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiva Sena, the Bhartiya Janata Party and other organizations form the Sangh Parivar.

As I mention in the RSS node, the major political front of the Sangh Parivar -- the BJP -- is in power at the center today. Unfortunately, for the BJP, their electoral fortunes seem to be sagging and they have lost a number of assembly elections recently (India has a federal system -- assembly elections are elections in a State).
The BJP is in power in Gujarat, but a few months ago, it seemed highly likely that they would lose the next elections. The BJP has consistently been whipping up hysteria -- partly communal and partly by creating tension with Pakistan. However, this time, the Sangh Parivar obviously felt that some drastic measures were called for. So, they started preparations for a large-scale pogrom in Gujarat.

Simultaneously, they also activated the Ram-Mandir issue in Ayodhya. Ayodhya is the birthplace of Ram. The BJP claims that a particular mosque in Ayodhya is built on the remains of a temple destroyed by Babar many hundred years back. Ten years ago, Sangh Parivar goons razed the mosque to the ground. The Sangh Parivar now wants to build a temple on the ruins of the mosque. Their Ayodhya program involved moving thousands and thousands of goons (the euphemism is kar sevaks) to Ayodhya.
On February 26, this year, a train carrying these Kar-Sevaks was attacked at Godhra and a compartment was set on fire. A number of people perished. The exact circumstances surrounding the Godhra incident are still unclear. However, one must imagine a train filled with thousands of these goons, traveling without tickets and hell-bent on creating trouble along the way to imagine the provocation that the assailants faced.This was a godsend for the Sangh Parivar...

The next day, Gujarat was lashed by massive revenge attacks. Investigation has shown that the Sangh Parivar was planning communal riots anyway -- the Godhra incident just gave them an opportunity.
Now, comes the most shocking part. Not only did the BJP state government make no attempt to stop the rioters, they actively abetted the extermination of Muslims. The riots continued unabated for more than a month. The shocking aspect was the planned manner in which the entire pogrom was carried out. The Sangh Parivar had detailed information about Muslim localities and shops. So, for example, in Ahmedabad it is common to find a series of twenty shops -- of which only one has been gutted -- the one belonging to a Muslim.

A few friends of mine, who visited Gujarat, spoke to one of the survivors and were told a horrific tale. This girl told them how she saw six thousand Sangh Parivar activists collect in a field. Of these, two thousand got up went out, murdered, raped, burnt and looted Muslim localities. In the meantime, two thousand rested and two thousand cooked. Then the two thousand murderers returned, and another shift of two thousand was sent out. This continued for nearly forty-eight hours.
In the meantime, not only was the police a passive bystander, it was an active participant. So, whenever any Muslim mob gathered to try and protect their houses, the police was brought in to fire on them.
Secondly, BJP leaders were found -- by journalists -- in police stations giving instructions and handing out weapons to Sangh Parivar activists. Needless to say, the police refused to lodge any FIRs (First Information Reports).

Sangh Parivar supporters claim that the riots were a spontaneous display of rage. While the above evidence would discount that, this is ridiculous simply because of what the rioters did. Women were raped by the thousands. In an infamous case, the rioters cut open a pregnant woman's womb and extracted the unborn fetus. Mosques were defaced and smashed and roads were built over them to prevent reconstruction. The Sangh Parivar activists put up obscene notices all over the city. One of them read "Now Muslim women know what it is to have intercourse with uncircumcised men".

The sad part is that despite intense negative media coverage, the central government(which is also BJP) did nothing to correct the state government. On the contrary, the Home Minister(L.K. Advani) commended his protege -- the chief minister of Gujarat(Narendra Modi) and said that he had done an excellent job.

Violence has stopped today but hundreds of thousands of Muslims are internally displaced. They are living in unhygienic relief camps and are not being allowed to return home by Hindu fanatics. The state government is dragging its feet on relief operations and the sanctioned compensation is not being given out.

The BJP game plan became clear when the Gujarat assembly was dissolved ahead of time. The BJP hopes to capitalize on the communal hysteria to try and win the elections.
The only good news is that their plans might be thwarted. The Election commission undertook a study in Gujarat, to determine the feasibility of holding elections. The Chief Election commissioner was shocked by the situation in the state. He was furious at the government and the state-bureaucracy and it is unlikely that he will sanction early elections in the state. In time, communal hysteria will die out and people, thinking with a sane mind, will vote the BJP out of power.
The central government realizes this and in an unprecedented event, the Home Minister (Advani again) instructed the Chief Election commissioner to mind his own business and now bother about relief work. Hopefully, the election commission will resist this pressure.

An update: The election commission recently released its report on Gujarat. The forty page damning indictment of the Narendra Modi Government concludes by stating that the situation in the state is far from normal. So early elections are ruled out!
Of course, this has sent the Sangh Parivar into a tizzy, and while they threaten to take the issue to court, there is little they can do!

This is a follow up on the elections mentioned in the last WU. The elections were held recently and the campaigning that preceded it saw Gujarat becoming even more communally divided. The Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narender Modi, openly made a number of inflammable, anti-minority comments and managed to whip up communal hysteria by arguing that the Hindus in the state were being threatened by the Muslims. An even more worrying development was that the Sangh Parivar and some of its top leaders openly acknowldeged their role in the Gujarat riots proclaiming it to be a 'successful experiment' that would now be repeated in other parts of the country.

The Gujarat elections, possibly one of the most closely watched state elections in Indian electoral history was billed as the last chance for secularim in India to assert itself. However, the restults were shocking. The BJP headed by Narender Modi won 126 out of the 182 seats in the state assembly with the Congress Party a distant second with 51. The results have had nation wide repercussions. The central BJP leadership which had at least briefly, after the riots, disassociated itself from Modi, now embraced him as a champion of Hindutva and a saviour of the party. Modi was no longer an outcast. But the election victory has other implications as well. First, the genocide that he presided over has been given public sanction by one section of Gujarat. Second, more worryingly, the BJP, which had at least overtly abandoned its Hindutva agenda in the face of the complex dynamics of coalition politics, has now resumed its championing of this divisive cause.

It is also noteworthy that in two recent public appearances human rights activists who have tried to challenge Modi on his record have been silenced. At a recent NRI (Non Resident Indian) forum, a French dancer of Indian origin who repeatedly questioned Modi was heckled by fellow delegates. Industrialists have always kow-towed to Modi as Gujarat has always been an economically prosperous region with most Gujaratis being engaged in some form of trade and commerce. Again, at a recent meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industries, a human rights activist who tried to question Modi was physically removed from the arena as representatives from many prominent industrial families disassociated themselves from Modi's past record. What impact the election results and these growing incidents of intolerance has on the minorities of India and on the plurality of the country only time will tell.

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