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THE SPECIFICITIES OF GUJARAT

Most people may not have noticed the colour green disappear from the flag of the Bharatiya Janata Party during the Gujarat elections. The green and saffron flag of the party was replaced by a saffron flag with a lotus imprinted on it. The scarves around the necks of party workers and party candidates were also unashamedly saffron. The emotional divide in the polity was so complete that green was rejected as the colour of the Muslims.

It has been claimed that Gujarat can be replicated by the BJP elsewhere. But first the special nature of Gujarati society needs to be noted. The social factors that obtain in Gujarat may not be present elsewhere in India. It may be an over-generalization to claim that the BJP can replicate the “Gujarat model” elsewhere.

In many ways Gujarat is different from other parts of India. One, there is the presence of a strong Gujarati sub-nationalism in the state. Two, the state has been only weakly influenced by progressive movements, resulting in a wide gap between its economic growth and social progress. And three, it has a sizeable middle class which is capable of being mobilized around a cause.

Gujarati sub-nationalism had its origins in the erstwhile Bombay state and the agitation led by the Mahagujarat Janata Parishad for a separate state. But somehow it has persisted over time. Even today, Gujaratis form the most closely knit community abroad. So when Narendra Modi talked of “Gujarat’s honour”, he was tapping into the subliminal parochialism of Gujaratis.

Gujarat has never witnessed a left movement. Despite a large, varied workforce, a modern trade union movement has been absent in the state. The textile industry was wiped out in Ahmedabad but it did not lead to any significant labour protests. The most labour intensive industries flourish in the state — from diamond polishing to ship-breaking but hardly anyone speaks up for these workers. Even after the freedom struggle, the so-called Nehruvian left was never strong in Gujarat.

In recent times, the only social movement that arose in Gujarat was the Navnirman movement against corruption in the early Seventies and the anti-reservation stir in 1985 after Madhavsinh Solanki introduced job and educational reservation for the backward castes. Because of the rapid economic strides it made, a middle class emerged in Gujarat which was capable of organizing and participating in a social movement. The Navnirman and anti-reservation stirs were examples of the emergent middle class coalescing around a cause. But without an egalitarian social vision, there is always a possibility that such a middle class might organize itself into a movement not for creating a just social order but for furthering its own narrow interests or even fascist goals. This first became evident in the anti-reservation stir and, more recently, in the state assembly election.

The absence of an egalitarian, inclusive and democratic social vision in Gujarat today perhaps has something to do with the state not having gone through an intellectual renaissance in the 19th and 20th centuries. It has produced entrepreneurs, lawyers and economists, but not a modern intellectual and cultural elite of any significance. Gujarat claims Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But Gandhi was the product of South Africa and apartheid — Gujarat had little to do with his political birth.

Sanjeev Kumar and Aruna Irani are the epitome of artistic achievement for the Gujaratis. Mrinalini Sarabhai came from Kerala and Kathak dancer Kumudini Lakhia is a Gujarati only by marriage. Significant Gujarati literateurs of the last two centuries do not even go into double digits. Writers such as Govardhanram Tripathi, Umashankar Joshi, Narmad Meghani, Ishwar Petlikar and Joseph Makwan or painters Haku Shah and Amit Ambalal do not, in themselves, herald a summer of enlightenment.

The point is that there is hardly an efflorescence of eccentrics or path-breaking artists here. Instead of providing a nurturing environment for artistic expression, its self-appointed cultural police restricts free expression as it did by setting fire to the joint project of architect Balkrishna Doshi and painter M.F. Husain — the Husain-Doshi gufa (cave). The two major centres of creative activity in Ahmedabad, the National Institute of Design and the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, have very few Gujarati students.

It appears that in Gujarat the pursuit of Mammon must not be threatened by romantic liaisons — who else but middle-aged Gujaratis would have pioneered the signing of “friendship agreements” (maitree karar) with one’s mistress so that she could not claim maintenance later in the relationship'

Take the central part of Gujarat which has been awash with saffron in this election, a region which also witnessed the most sustained communal rioting. This emerging Hindutva heartland of the state has not seen any radical breaks in its social continuum. Except for the peasant movements of the Twenties and Thirties, there have been no resistance movements here. Central Gujarat witnessed the biggest cooperative revolution in India, but it is intellectually complacent. Cooperative milk marketing made its cows fat and its human inhabitants culturally emaciated.

When the rest of India was trying to move forward, Gujarat was starting its socially regressive march. When Raja Rammohan Roy was active in Bengal reforming Hinduism, in the 1830s the Swaminarayan sect was consolidating itself in Gujarat. It reinforced Hindu orthodoxy both in terms of gender and caste. The agricultural surplus from the commercial production of tobacco, bananas, rice and milk flowed into temple construction. The richest and the grandest Swaminarayan temples are in central Gujarat. The only outstanding figures of the region are the Patel brothers — Vallabhbhai and Vithalbhai Patel, and they were known only for their politics.

Even though education has spread among the higher and the middle castes, it is largely technical education. Hardly any students opt for liberal arts in the Gujarat education board schools. It is not surprising therefore that the Gujarati youth is not informed by the liberal arts and social sciences. In the MS University in Vadodara, for example, out of nearly 28,000 students, less than 2,000 are enrolled in the humanities faculty — nearly 17,000 are studying commerce and the rest, science.

Gujarat is a society that has done very well economically but has never paused to take a serious look at itself. No wonder then that many Gujaratis were bewildered at the way the rest of India condemned them for what they thought was “justified” reaction to Godhra. They still do not understand why they should not have voted for Modi and his goons.

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