ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gujarat: Intolerance of the Benign

Intolerance of the Benign As Narendra Modi

GUJARAT

Intolerance of the Benign

A
s Narendra Modi’s campaign for a “vibrant Gujarat” unfolds, predictably enough, the “development” bandwagon seems to be going hand in hand with the politics of polarisation along communal lines. One of Modi’s followers, Sunil Solanki, the mayor of Vadodara, emerges as a great champion of widening the roads as part of the city’s new development plan. Never mind that those roads are full of potholes, there is a perennial problem of the disposal of garbage, and water is always in short supply. The “developers” want, above all, the roads to be widened, for which all “encroachments” have to be done away with. A dargah of a Sufi saint, Syed Rashiuddin Chishti – recorded in the first city survey way back in 1912, patronised by Hindus as much as by Muslims, reflecting the religious culture of syncretism of the subcontinent – is deemed to be an encroachment. It is equated with the many ‘deras’ – tiny private temples found outside the gates of some homes – that have come in the eye of the demolition squad. The argument of the Hindutvadis is: Why should an old and decrepit shrine of a Sufi saint be treated any differently?

In the face of such hostility – not merely of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, but also of the Vadodara municipal corporation and the police – local Muslim leaders were driven to “negotiate” a compromise – that the part of the Chishti shrine’s structure jutting out on to the road may be sacrificed for “development”. But on May Day of all days – when internationally the achievements of workers are celebrated and their historic struggles to organise are recalled – in Vadodara, at least, tactics reminiscent of colonial divide and rule were being enacted. A petty, sinister plan was meticulously executed – the entire structure of the dargah of Syed Rashiuddin Chishti was demolished and by afternoon a road was paved over it. The operation was remarkably similar to what had been to the tomb of Wali Dakhani in Ahmedabad, just a stone’s throw from the commissioner of police’s office on March 1, 2002. The commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, was then P C Pande, whose role in the 2002 pogrom against Muslims was to direct the police force not to protect the victims of that pogrom. He has since been on the fast track list of promotions and is now the director-general of police of the state.

The dargah of Syed Rashiuddin Chishti had been the target of demolition of Hindu communalists since 1969; 37 years later the communal forces finally razed to the ground what they provocatively dubbed a “mini-Babri masjid”. The Muslim community was clearly provoked and they came out in protest demonstrations. But instead of treating the community in a sensitive manner, the police fired upon the demonstrators, killing three persons and injuring many. By all accounts, the situation did not seem to warrant shooting to kill, without in the first place, trying to restrain the demonstrators. The police clearly acted in an insensitive and irresponsible manner. What was ghastly was the attack and burning to death of 38-year old Rafik Abdul Ghani Vohra by a mob led by VHP activists as he was returning home around an hour past midnight on May 3. Calls for help were reportedly rebuffed by the police retort: “Go to Pakistan”. Such omissions and commissions of the police would have led to a major conflagration and spread of the violence elsewhere but for the centre’s intervention, persuading Narendra Modi to agree to the deployment of the army on May 3. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the centre could not possibly have remained a mute witness to the communal violence as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the centre had been in 2002. Law and order is a state subject, but in situations where a state government abdicates its responsibility in upholding the law and the Constitution, or acts in a blatantly partisan manner, as the BJP-led state government under Narendra Modi had done in 2002, the centre cannot remain a mute spectator. The Communal Violence Bill that is currently being debated in a parliamentary standing committee of the union home ministry needs to clearly specify the role of the centre in such situations.

Sufi saints such as Syed Rashiuddin Chishti were the harbingers of the culture of syncretism in the subcontinent. The tragedy is that Hindutva seems threatened even by the benign. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly May 13, 2006

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