Burhan Wazir reports from Gujarat on an explosion of violence, nationalism and Nazi-style politics and its result: 2,000 killed and 100,000 homeless
Sunday July 21, 2002
The Observer (http://www.observer.co.uk) (England)
At the elegantly simple home of Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad, the bustling capital of Gujarat state, a museum eulogises his contribution to the founding of India. Gandhi’s clothes, books, journals and photographs line the walls. Outside in the freshly watered gardens the mango trees are in full bloom. One journal contains Gandhi’s simple denunciation of violence: ‘The science of war leads one to dictatorship. The science of non-violence alone can lead one to a pure democracy.’
More than 50 years after his death at the hands of a nationalist militant, Gandhi would find India unrecognisable. In the past five months his home state has been stunned by religious violence that shows few signs of fading.
India’s worst religious violence since the 1947 partition was sparked at the end of February when 57 Hindu pilgrims were killed in the alleged torching of a train carriage by Muslim militants in Godhra. Hindu militants sought a swift revenge.
Since then, massacres by Hindu gangs have become commonplace. In five months, more than 2,000 Muslims have been killed and more than 100,000 displaced, congregating in squalid camps around Gujarat.
The state is in turmoil. On Friday, only hours after the state’s top elected official, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, resigned and dissolved the legislative assembly to seek a fresh mandate, at least two people were killed and eight others injured when police opened fire to disperse rioting mobs. In recent months Mohdi had come under attack for his delayed response to the killings. His resignation was eclipsed, however, on Thursday when 70-year-old Muslim scientist Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, an unrepentant nationalist and the father of India’s nuclear missile programme, was elected to the largely ceremonial role of President.
The violence has been linked to the rise of extremist Hindu groups such as the Association of National Volunteers, or the RSS – a khaki-clad nationalist paramilitary sect formed in the Twenties – and its offspring, the World Hindu Council, or the VHP.
Gujarat is one of the few states in India controlled by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The state has been described as a ‘laboratory for Hindu fascism’. Since rising to power in the mid-Nineties, the BJP has aggressively pursued a pro-Hindu agenda.
It has also backed the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, where Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque in 1992. Several members of the present Cabinet, including the Indian Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, were present at the demolition.
The RSS and the World Hindu Council, described locally as ‘Saffron Warriors’, have one clear aim: Hindu expansion by mass conversion. The militants believe that India was once an empire of 75 countries stretching from Cambodia to Iran.
They have introduced textbooks that convey former Hindu glories, and they propagate the myth of an India under siege from native Islamic militants. The RSS also lobbies to reintroduce the traditional names of cities like Mumbai, until recently Bombay.