The Doors are still closed

Rohit Negi is an Assistant Professor at Ambedkar University, Delhi. He can be contacted at rohitosu[at]gmail.com.

Rohit Negi

This is in response to Sagarika Ghose’s piece in the Hindustan Times, about the condition, ideas and aspirations of Gujarati Muslims ten years after the pogrom.

Strangely, while much of the evidence presented in the article points to an extremely disturbing state of affairs, Ghose’s interpretation of what she witnesses—presumably while filming for her TV programme—turns hopelessness into positivity and disenfranchisement into opportunity.

The following are essentially my annotations to specific quotes from the article.

The land of historic Gandhian satyagrahas like Kheda, Bardoli and the Dandi March, Gujarat today is curiously apolitical…Leaders of all three main parties — Narendra Modi of the BJP, Shankersinh Vaghela of the Congress and Keshubhai Patel of the Gujarat Parivartan Party – are or were all rooted in the RSS and the Hindu consensus in Gujarat is overwhelming”

– Can anything ever be apolitical? Is this nauseating consensus, which one can call a proper hegemony—in the Gramscian sense—not political, even if ultimately it is a victory of Hindutva?

“But within this largely Hindu state with a Hindu consensus, there is a silent invisible transformation. At 9% of the population, Muslims remain politically irrelevant.”

– Is not, what is termed, the Muslims’ ‘political irrelevance’ not a political act, carefully thought through and ruthlessly applied?

“Today, young Hindus and Muslims swear that they will never let riots happen again, not perhaps out of any newfound love for each other but because an aspirational society, seeking to take its place in a globalised world, does not want any taints on its brand.”

– One can only guess what Ghose means here. Perhaps she’s talking about how the youth—by the way, is this across the religion, class, caste spectrum?–have internalized the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ rhetoric; how, in other words this discourse is so hegemonic—again, in the Gramscian sense—that even those at the bottom of society, and particularly those who’re bulldozed in the process now see their future tied to the very ideology that tramples over them. If so, this is the singularly most tragic fact about today’s Gujarat. But I suspect that is not how Ghose sees it.

“According to a CNN-IBN CSDS pre-poll survey of Gujarat’s voters, 65% Muslim said they want to forget the riots of 2002.”

-What’s so revelatory about this? Why should they not ‘want to forget’ the trauma? Question is, are they able to?

“In 2002, the riots brought a majority of 127 seats; in 2007, Modi invoked the Sohrabuddin case to consolidate his image as the protector of Hindus and won 117 seats. Today, he may have made references to “Miyan” Ahmed Patel to try and neutralise hard line Hindu outrage at his Sadbhavna mission or outreach to minorities and reassure his core Hindu voters. But this time Modi’s slogan is ‘Gujarat for all’ — this time he’s a wannabe Barry Goldwater, trying to shift his position as the poster boy of the economic right, not just the cultural right.”

-If we believe Ghose, then what is meant as an indication of a return to the ‘normal’ is actually the most terrifying thing about Modi. That, once his Mission Delhi ends in a humbling defeat, which it is bound to, he can return to Hindutva-strong.

“Juhapura, the Muslim ghetto in the heart of Ahmedabad is changing dramatically. There are new building societies, hospitals, the beginnings of a new prosperity. However, Juhapura also resembles a Gujarati Gaza Strip, a designated area for Muslims, a place where they can build and flourish, but not venture beyond.”Yet, Muslims say they want the narrative of eternal suffering, victimhood and persecution to change. A development-oriented state that supplies 24×7 electricity to all is also a state that does not hand out sops or special privileges. This, paradoxically, lessens the dependency trap and the vested interests of victimhood. In 2002, there were 260 Muslim educational trusts; today there are more than 800, all running schools with a single-minded focus on acquiring quality education. The Gujarat example shows, ironically, how dynamic a community can become when the state hands out ‘benign neglect’ and forces independence and enterprise.

-Here is the key message of the article: that the withering of the welfare state prevents dependency, and with it, victimhood. There is little new here, in fact, it is the very bedrock of conservative thought, Milton Friedman onwards. The only question is if the welfare state is equally distant across social groups?

Again, this is precisely the larger debate about the place and role of the state in society. Ghose has made her views on this clear. The implication is that citizens should no longer look at the state as the arena of political action around resources or redistribution. To use Partha Chatterjee’s formulation, there isn’t even a political society left.

“Many Muslims spoke to me about the need to change personal laws, about the drawbacks of identity politics and the underworld bhai leaders of the past. There is the recognition that they may be second-class citizens in Gujarat, but still do not fear to assert their identity in public.”

-This sentence makes absolutely no sense, unless the point is that one finds Burqas and skull-caps in public. But isn’t there strict ‘physical separation’ as was stated above? More importantly, what does the public domain itself mean in Gujarat? How democratic is it?

“The Muslim story in Gujarat is a poignant example of how sometimes good results from the terrible, how the apocalypse sometimes brings a rebirth.”

-Is this what the ‘Muslim story’ (incredible how one can still hope to legitimately talk about a Muslim story despite decades of cultural critique) shows? To me, it is a disheartening story of desperation, loss of trust with state institutions (the judiciary is only onepillar, after all), and ultimately of segregation that may have irreparably damaged the multicultural kernel at the centre of the Indian nation-state.

Moreover, this and other recent interventions on Gujarat ask readers to ‘move on’ from 2002, showing us that after all, ‘even the Muslims of Gujarat’ have moved on.

One must of course respect the feelings of the victims of violence, and support their attempts to reconstruct lives and communities. But the burden of remembering should not be the victims’ to shoulder. It should be ours, or at least, of those with a stake in working towards the idea of a secular and just society and polity.

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