Review: Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and The State by Nikita Sud

Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and The State

The fervour in India right now is blinding and deafening. The general elections of 2014 aren't very far away and UPA (United Progressive Alliance) already is mired in controversies with various scams and the economy in doldrums. All this makes for a good opportunity for the opposition, primarily BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), to bank upon. In fact the banter from BJP supporters is so cantankerous and ad hominem that most often there is absolutely no point in arguing with BJP supporters. This is not to say that the supporters from the other side aren't engaging in such repulsive behaviour, but the intensity with which the saffron brigade is doing this is difficult to ignore - from personal attacks on the Indian Prime Minister to the Gandhi family, nothing has been left unsaid. As the tirade gathers up clout as we approach the elections, the social media, too, is abuzz with uncouth comments. I am not sure how I chanced upon this book, but it was probably a suggestion on Amazon or I read about it on Economic and Political Weekly. In the wake of the above mentioned din, it became all the more important for me to buy this book so as to educate myself about the truth - about what has been the political history of Gujarat, a state in which I have grown up and have spent nearly two and a half decades before I started running after jobs elsewhere, and also to understand what has been the legacy of Congress and BJP in the State. Narendra Modi is being projected as the leader who can do wonders to the country and can bring India out of mute subjugation at the hands of others to a dominating position. He alone, it seems, will be do-all guy: from handling finances, defence, foreign policy, home ministry and what not. His makeover being handled by APCO Worldwide is widely known and also their misdemeanours in handling the Uttarakhand tragedy. This review, I hope, will help clear out many of the preconceived notions with which people are rooting for their parties, whether BJP or Congress and also help the average Indian decide on what should be the course of action about voting next year and the average Gujarati on the course of action in the next Assembly Elections.

The book is divided in two parts - Part I (Gujarat's Trajectory of Development) and Part II (Religion and the Nation State). She writes that the "apparent transition to an intriguing combination of economic liberalization coexistent with political illiberalism, makes Gujarat an important and very interesting case". The chapter Political Topography gives a good overview of the State's politics and the various players who have been at loggerheads to win the people's hearts. The strengthening of Congress and the rise of KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) based politics with an ever-increasing clout of the Hindutva themed opposition is written about in brief. On the economic side, the setting up of GIDCs, the revocation of Octroi, the land liberalizing acts and the after-effects of the creation of two separate States of Maharashtra and Gujarat - they all have played their role in various capacities. At the same time, despite the 'vibrancy' of Gujarat being promoted with no holds barred, the picture that emerges is not so glittering. Dr. Sud writes, "in 1999, the State had 7.1 lakh registered educated unemployed youth. by the end of 2002, the number had risen to more than 12 lakh. The investment that is being attracted is captila- rather than labour-intensive". The increase of Gini coefficient too doesn't signal too promising a future for the non-elite. The land reforms are discussed in vivid detail and so are its effects and side-effects on the farmers. The maharajas were obviously dissatisfied with laws limiting ownership and hence were bound to support the opposition, which had to oppose anything and everything the ruling party proposed. The case study on Karkhana (a fictitious cement company) - which is actually Sanghi Cements - illustrates how various rules were flouted in clear defiance of environmental regulations and favours made for the company to make inroads in the arid region of Kachchh. The first section, though enlightening, is difficult to understand for a general reader like me. The references listed guide you to eminent works by other writers and historians.

Documentary on 2002 Gujarat riots

Part-II is easier to understand compared to Part-I because it is about the role of religion in the state of Gujarat. And this is the section which should act as an eye-opener to the supporters of not just Narendra Modi but even BJP. She outlines the rise of Hindu nationalism as opposed to nationalism. The history of the Right, from V.D. Savarkar, Golwalkar, Hindu Mahasabha, S.P. Mookerjee, K.M. Munshi, Hedgewar among others is detailed in this section. Then Dr. Sud goes on the put it in the context of Gujarat and how the State had its own share of contribution to the this growth of Hindutva politics. The present lot of supporters who call BJP a secular party should be made to read at least this section of the book. The inflammatory text of various posters and articles by these parties is mentioned here.  The burning effect various yatras have had on the country and in the State is too significant to be brushed aside and ignored and well documented in form of a table on page 143 of the book.

One of the often used arguments by BJP supporters when countering the secular credentials of Congress is that communal riots have also happened under the latter's rule. True and it can't be denied - 1984 anti-Sikh riots is the worst blot on Congress and can never be washed away. However, it cannot be denied that the right-wing parties are much more polarising and generate hatred on either side to a much larger extent. There can be no justification of 1984, but there can be absolutely no justification of, say 2002. Coming back to the original point, it is often mentioned that riots in Gujarat happened before BJP came to power. And I used to find it difficult to accept this fact at face value. And what this book has done to clear the doubts is something which I am thankful for. Dr. Sud writes, "the State witnessed its first major communal riot over two weeks in September, 1969. Districts Kheda, Mehsana, and Baroda were affected, although Ahmedabad was the epicentre. With senior priests and the Sangh-backed HDRS insistent that Hindus would avenge the 'attack' on their temple, the riots began" (emphasis my own). It is clear how in this case as well, the involvement of right-wing related organisations resulted in a riot and not because of any Congress-actuated event. The same story is then repeated in the 1980's , 1990's and as much as in the 2000's. The case of Ayodhya is interspersed with the events in the State and make up for a good reading. Then Dr. Sud comes to the events of 2002 and dissects the often-dissected trauma. The various incendiary speeches of Modi are given in parts along with sources.

I clearly remember how the events of 2002 shaped the life around me and of a few people whom I knew back then. My 12th Board Exams were just around the corner when the Godhra carnage happened. The next day on the streets, right outside my home, there were people wearing orange coloured clothes with trishools in their hands and shouting slogans. The excitement in the air was unnerving. And it was only a matter of few hours before a nearby laundry belonging to a Muslim was torched, a Muslim family living next to a market was forced to run out of their home and a family of my society took shelter in the house of their neighbour, a Hindu. My exams then got postponed by more than a month. The ensuing riots have been well covered and documented, even resulting in the arrest of couple of ministers from Narendra Modi's team. The fake encounters and even the killing of Haren Pandya soon followed.

In Conclusion, the author writes, "I am inclined towards Kohli's interpretation. For Kohli, India's growth story predates the adoption of open market liberalization in the 1990s. It can be traced to the 1980s when the state abandoned the Left-leaning, anti-capitalistic rhetoric and policies adopted after independence, prioritized economic growth and slowly yet steadily embraced Indian capital as its main ally". This book puts the performances of Congress and BJP governments in the right context. It is not a pro-Congress or anti-BJP book - it criticises the Congress for its elite politics and unearths the communal and elitist growth policies of BJP. It exposes the links between the rise of Hindu-right and BJP in India and Gujarat. That neither BJP nor Congress are innocent souls is not debatable, and hence the rise of Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal is well appreciated. His stance, however, on most of the things is based on exposing the corrupt practices rather than suggest solutions for the future. He, as his party is new to the scene, is focusing on the Delhi constituencies. If AAP over the years becomes a national player then there can be no better option, but till then Congress is the best option which is there to be voted for.

I hope this review will propel many readers to pick up this book and read for themselves the story of Gujarat and how it has become what it is today, rather than believe what is being said in the paid-media and on propagandist websites like Niti Central. At the same time, selective interpretation of the statements made in the book, like the following, defeats the very purpose for which this book was written in the first place:

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