By M.V. Kamath
The Snapning of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond by Achyut Yajnik and Suchitra Sheth; Penguin Books; pp 328; Rs. 350
Time was when the concept of linguistic states was hardly talked about. The British, as they kept conquering the country, formed the various presidencies of Bengal, Madras, Bombay, etc, practically on an ad hoc basis, as they went along absorbing territories in their ruthless march towards establishing their suzerainity over the sub-continent. Thus, at one time, the Presidency of Bengal included what are now Assam, Orissa and Bihar. The Presidency of Bombay included parts of what are now Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Central Provinces and, in the early years, Sindh (now part of Pakistan) as well. The Indian National Congress, in its bid to win popular support was the first to set up provincial committes on a strictly linguistic basis and this was to lead, once Independence was won, and the party was in a position to form a stable government at the centre, to restructuring the states on purely linguistic lines.
?Many of the issues dear to Gandhi were in disarry as Gujarati society resisted his efforts?. Finally we come to the post-1940 period and the growth of Hindu-Muslim tensions.
The idea of Gujarat, then, antedates the attainment of freedom. Indeed, the idea itself, and the pride of Gujarati identity, the authors of this book assert, is pre-modern. But much the same can be said of practically all linguistic states. What the authors, in the circumstances, set out to achieve was to present ?a concerned citizen'sunderstanding of the shaping of modern Gujarat?. In the course of their search they have also explored the polarisation of the Hindus and Muslims of Gujarat, identifying the social and political developments which altered the relationship between these two religious groups and made them two antagonistic blocs. The book rightly starts with a recounting of Gujarat's history, the growth of the Gujarati language that bound the people across region and religion, caste, community or creed?the authors maintain that ?it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is impossible to write good Gujarati without using Persian or Arabic words??the steady growth of mercantile ethos, the expansion of the social base, Gujarat'sencounters with ?Muslims?, the sacking of Somnath, recorded by the poet Padmanabh as revealing ?that even after 150 years the event coutinued to have a powerful impact on the mind of the vanquished?. Under the rule of the Sultanates, life was worse, with one of the rulers, Mahmud Begada, destroying the temple of Dwarka, desecrating the temple at Somnath and converting? a number? of Rajput Kings. Write the authors: ?The distancing between the two communities was accentuated during the reign of Sultan Mahmud III (1537-54) after he decreed that Hindu subjects should wear red armbands, prohibited public celebrations of Holi and Diwali and Hindus riding horses…? The Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb in turn ordered the destruction of the Hatkeshwar Temple and decreed that Hindus other than Rajputs should not carry arms or ride elephants, palkhis or Arab and Iraqi horses. There is also reference to Marathas plundering Gujarat to the extent that they came to be hated. It is against this background that a Gujarat leader could write in 1857: ?Compared to other rule, the British rule is far better and may God continue it for ever. Another member of the elite, Narmad was to welcome Queen Victoria'sraj, saying ?May the Queen have a glorious reign?! The authors thereafter deal with the establishment of peace in Gujarat, the beginning of industrialistaion, the movement towards swadeshi?the first textile mill was established in Ahmedabad in 1861?and finally, the call for swadeshi and the growth of revolutionary nationalism, following two terrible famines that were handled ?callously? by the British government. Enter Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The scene changes. Gujarat comes under the Mahatma'sinfluence, but not as fully as he would have liked. Write the authors: ?Many of the issues dear to Gandhi were in disarry as Gujarati society resisted his efforts?. Finally we come to the post-1940 period and the growth of Hindu-Muslim tensions, and the partition of India. The last three chapters deal with Social Landscape in Gujarat after Independence, the rise of Hindutva, and Hindutva and beyond, and these are the most disappointing chapters, all told. One gets the impression that the anthors plainly do not want to face up to the Truth, even when they claim that they have ?relied more on our field experiences and observations as well as conversations with old and young people of Gujarat?. Did they, for instance, try to find out what goes on in their minds in the matter of Hindu-Muslim relations? The authors treat the Godhra incident lightly. Consider this statement made by the authors: ?Since early February 2002, large number of VHP volunteers had been going to and fro between Ahmedabad and Ayodhya for kar seva. On 27 February, a train on which kar sevaks were returning from Ayodhya was stopped near a slum on the outskirts of Godhra railway station. One of its coaches was burnt by a mob, killing 59 persons. Residents of Godhra and Faizabad later reported that for several weeks, such volunteers had misbehaved with hawkers, teased women, shouted slogans at many stations and made inflammatory speeches all along the route, which may have precipitated the irate reaction of the mob. As yet, no definite picture has emerged regarding who the perpetrators were or what their motive was, and the investigations continue…? This is the most dishonest reportage of the Godhra incident ever made and the authors should be ashamed of themselves. Who were the ?mob?? Why did the mob assembly in thousands? The authors refuse to identify the ?mobs?, except to say that the BJP strongholds of Saurashtra and Kutch did not feel the same urge to avenge the ?Godhra wrongs?. Godhra wrongs? Are we to dismiss the live burning of some 50 odd women and children in a railway coach without a chance to escape a ?wrong?? The approach of the authors is the standard ?secular? approach, which is not only wrong, but is despicable. The authors claim that the State was blatantly wrong?. Their claim is the classic one of suppressiveri suggestio falsi. Yet they say that ?after the establishment of the separate State of Gujarat, with a democratic set-up, communal and caste riots have taken place without any of the culprits or kingpins being punished by any government of the day. The authors say that ?by the early 1990s Hindu and Muslim community leaders reported that they no longer wielded any authority over their youth and the traditional structure of community control had crumbled?. As a historical study this book is incomplete. As a social study it is hesitant. As an analytical study it is a total failure.