The Gujarat Gaali Yatra

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi rides on, spewing venom all the way. But will his game plan, with an eye on the elections, work?


There’s nothing like good fight to round up every festival. That’s the Sangh Parivar’s firm belief. Every celebration is being used to spread hate. The Gods must be invoked at every opportunity to stir up communal strife. After the dreaded Jagannath Yatra in Ahmedabad and the Janmashtami festival in Rajkot, it was now the Ganesh festival that spread terror in Gujarat. Four people were killed and 20 injured in Vadodara city in clashes that broke out on September 20th when the Ganesh processions wound their way through Muslim areas, shouting provocative slogans.

The Sangh Parivar is using every possible opportunity to ferment communal animosity. Most large Ganesh processions are organised by the Parivar’s local organisations, and degenerate into a chauvanistic flexing of Hindutva muscle. This year, riot-hit areas like Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Panchmahals and Dahod, have seen a marked increase in Ganesh pandals. In several Muslim areas, people observed a ‘janata curfew’ to prevent trouble. Ganesh processions were not permitted in Anand and Borsad, where the atmosphere is already tense following recent clashes and the killing of local Congress corporator Babubhai Patel. But the Hindutvadis remain adamant. Trouble has to be kept brewing, whether it is through festivals or the BJP’s own Gaurav Yatra.

This is a yatra with no gaurav (pride) but a lot of gaalis (insults). As chief minister Narendra Modi takes his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra through the state with virtually no achievements to boast of, he has been hurling insults at various targets – Muslims, General Musharraf, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sonia Gandhi. Low-level rabble-rousing is all Modi is left with. His speeches are a frantic attempt to keep communal hatred simmering, even after violence in the state has died down. It is also shrewd strategy to divert voter attention from the BJP government’s failures over the last five years.

Modi’s yatra has drawn indifferent responses due to discord within his own party. His rival, former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, is stirring dissent. Campaigning without support from Keshubhai’s camp is proving to be difficult. Many of Modi’s poll plans seem to be going awry. He dissolved the Gujarat assembly in mid-July. Hoping to capitalise on the communal fervour that gripped the state since March 27th, he planned an early election. The Election Commission and the Supreme Court spoiled his calculations. They ruled out the possibility of early elections. Now, Modi is trying to keep the hate alive until the polls.

Since the violence began, Modi has faced severe criticism for supporting the Sangh’s post-Godhra persecution of Muslims in which over 1,000 people died. But still, he didn’t hesitate to insult the community. “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby-producing centres? But for certain people that means ‘hum paanch, hamare pachis’ (Us five and our 25)…We must teach a lesson to those who multiply like this,” Modi ridiculed, during a Gaurav Yatra rally in north Gujarat. Predictably, his government has done little to rehabilitate the nearly 1.5 lakh people who were made homeless during the violence. In fact, they tried closing down relief camps as soon as possible in an attempt to prove that the state is ‘back to normal’. Even India’s first PM wasn’t singled out for attack, all for the pride of Gujarat. “Nehru insulted Gujarat by denying our Sardar Patel the opportunity to become PM,” Modi said.

A week after Modi’s remarks created a national controversy, some whistle blowers were punished. Three senior state police Intelligence Bureau officers were transferred. Their department had dared to recommend that Modi be punished for his communal speech. They sent a note to the Director-General of Police K. Chakravarty and to the additional chief secretary of the home department Ashok Narayan, suggesting that action be taken against Modi for his inflammatory speeches. There is speculation that the government is thinking of filing a case against them under the Official Secrets Act. But they were only doing their duty, fearlessly reporting incidents that could ruin the fragile peace in Gujarat.

Throughout the Gaurav Yatra, Modi has steered clear of any mention of his government’s achievements. Mainly because there aren’t any to speak of. His only boast, of bringing the Narmada waters to the canal, was also given a communal twist. “We brought Narmada waters during Shravan (a Hindu holy month), but the Congress would have wanted it in Ramzan,” Modi said. However, his claim is hollow. It was later revealed that in Saurashtra, the government diverted water from the Mahi river into the Narmada canal, saying it was Narmada water. While there was jubilation when Narmada waters filled the Sabarmati river basin in Ahmedabad, it is still unclear how many other towns and villages in Gujarat will actually benefit. Distribution networks are yet to be built. “These are just populist tactics to gain attention during the election. Soon after the monsoon, this water may dry up. No one is asking what the government is doing to recharge the waters of the Sabarmati river, that have dried up,” said Sanjay Sanghvai from the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Not many people are falling for Modi’s gimmicks. The yatra hasn’t been able to draw large crowds. Playing on religious sentiments, Modi is starting every leg of his yatra from a temple. First, it was the Bhattiji Maharaj temple in Phagvel, which is worshipped by Kshatriya OBCs. Then, to win over Dalit support, he flagged off the second round of his yatra from the temple of the Dalit saint Savianathji in Jhajhankar village. But the Gods don’t seem to be helping. “Despite the use of money and state power, the response to the yatra has been indifferent. It is the same group of BJP workers following Modi in luxury buses. Of course, there are always a few local supporters and curious onlookers, but nothing much to speak of,” BJP sources say.

Modi even tried rustling up a few token Muslims. A local BJP leader arranged for five Muslims with shaven heads, painted with the BJP’s lotus logo, to greet the yatra at Mendarda, near Junagadh. But no one fell for the tokenism. In fact, even powerloom factory owners in Surat threatened to boycott the elections and the Gaurav Yatra if their demand for lower power tariffs is not met. When Modi visited former CM Keshubhai Patel’s constituency, Visavadar in Saurashtra recently, he was drowned out by pro-Keshubhai chants. Many BJP supporters boycotted the rally because they felt that Modi had unfairly ousted their leader, Keshubhai, last October.

In his own backyard, Modi has to contend with dissent from the powerful Patel lobby within the BJP. Many Patels are upset at the manner in which former CM Keshubhai Patel was booted out. Keshubhai still has a large support base in the Saurashtra region, where the BJP has 51 of the 58 assembly seats. Although the BJP has appointed Keshubhai as campaign president, he chose to stay away from the yatra, citing health reasons. However, he attended a recent meeting of the Leuva Patel community in Gandhinagar organised under the ‘Saurashtra Leuva Patel Seva Samaj’ banner. The meeting was held to “fight against political injustice to the Patel community”. Mafatlal Patel, the estranged husband of Education Minister Anandiben Patel, also spoke at the meeting. “Keshubhai is a visionary. Why shouldn’t Gujarat have a Patel chief minister?” he asked. Keshubhai also made his resentment public during a television interview. He said that Narendra Modi might not be the ultimate choice for CM again, if the party was voted back to power in the Assembly polls. “Modi is leading us into the elections, but I am clear that only the MLAs can decide the next Chief Minister,” Keshubhai told Star News. The BJP president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, had recently said Modi would be the Chief Minister of Gujarat after the Assembly elections.

But both Naidu and Keshubhai may be jumping the gun by assuming that the BJP will return to power. Voters are angry about the government’s neglect of basic survival problems. The state has had its third consecutive drought. But the government still hasn’t declared drought in the state and started relief work for the vast army of people rendered unemployed and bankrupt. This year, insufficient rainfall in the first two monsoon months resulted in large-scale crop loss. Around 80 per cent of the state has got less than half the normal rainfall. Even though there was rain later in August, very little of the crop could be salvaged. Around 25 farmers in Sanand, Ahmedabad (rural) district, committed suicide after crop failure made them broke. Development work has ground to a halt with contractors bills worth around Rs 1,000 crore unpaid. In cities, employment has fallen, due to the industrial slowdown. Around 60 per cent of Gujarat’s small and medium industry, which was the main source of employment, are either sick or closed. A recent government document estimates that organised sector employment fell by 10.29 per cent since 1998, when the BJP came to power (Rajiv Shah, The Times of India, September 14th 2002). Around 15 lakh unemployed are seeking jobs in the organised sector, just 1.22 lakh less than those employed in the sector.

Modi’s insults are a cover-up for his failures. They are attempts at rabble-rousing to deflect focus from the real issues that confront Gujarat’s voters. He is desperately trying to fan hatred. Rather than bolstering Gujarat’s pride, he is becoming an embarrassment for the state. Didn’t someone say pride comes before a fall?

Frontline, October 12 – 25, 2002 Also available here

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