The forthcoming Gujarat Assembly Election has turned on the political heat in the state and the country’s mainstream media is focusing on the battle-of-words between the incumbent BJP and the opposition Congress, which is trying hard to seize control of the state after nearly two decades of banging head against the wall. Within this cacophony, the concern of the people of Gujarat, the broad masses of landless peasants, the tribals, the Dalits and the most persecuted Muslims are lost and sunk.
While most media outlets are busy in projecting that what Narendra Modi told the people about the Congress’ purported anti-Gujarat attitude and some amplifying the jibes of Rahul Gandhi who is peddling the soft-Hindutva politics that the Congress is notorious for, they remain quiet on the agony of the flood-affected poor and landless peasants and the tribals, they maintain a conspicuous silence on the plight of the displaced people of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, they don’t talk about the growth of hunger among the rural poor in Gujarat, the laboratory of Hindutva and the home turf of Narendra Modi, the very home of “Vikas” a.k.a development, using which as a bait Narendra Modi rode on the anti-Congress wave of 2014 to reach the throne of New Delhi.
Since 2015, Gujarat saw two major movements by two diametrically opposite socio-economic groups that shook the state and appalled the country. The first one was the Patidar movement that started in July 2015 and resulted in a state-wide riot, arson and state-sponsored violence against the agitators. The second one was the movement of the Dalits that started after few Dalit youth of Una were flogged in public by upper-caste RSS and Bajrang Dal supporters for skinning a dead cow. These two movements and the failure of the government to address them caused a lot of tremor within the Sangh Parivar, which is keen to hold on its crucial Hindutva laboratory at any cost. As a result of the discontent with the government’s inability to deal with the situation, the BJP threw out the then chief minister, Anandiben Patel, and brought a Jain leader Vijay Rupani to lead the Gujarat Assembly Election. But the remote control remained in the hands of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, for whom, the state epitomises their political prestige.
The success of the BJP in retaining its unprecedented 22-year-long rule in the state comes from its ability to play with the flames of communalism in the state. It was in 2001 that the party faced the severest crisis in its rule following the massive earthquake that devastated life in the state. The crisis was so severe that Nagpur headquarters of the RSS anticipated a backlash in the Gujarat Assembly Election of 2002. It replaced the then chief minister Keshubhai Patel with Narendra Modi, who, soon after assuming power, brought drastic change in the state’s political equation by bringing forth the hardcore Hindutva militants to the power equation and by elevating a bureaucratic clique that was not only sycophant in nature, but also equally bigoted like Modi himself.
The 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, organised and orchestrated by the RSS-BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal clique, with full support from the state machinery, helped Narendra Modi to consolidate the upper-caste and backward caste Hindu vote bank, also bringing a large chunk of Dalit votes to the BJP’s camp, thanks to the efforts by Mayawati, the BSP leader who was with the BJP in an alliance at that time. The BJP’s unchallenged rule continued due to its successful tampering with the anti-Muslim bigotry imbibed within the upper-caste Gujarati Hindus and also by spreading Islamophobia among the Dalits and tribal people by using different mediums and organisations of the Sangh Parivar. The Muslims remain subordinated and treated as second-class citizens, deprived of any socio-economic rights and political say in the state and their voice remains unheard because it’s unpopular for the majority community.
When the Gujarat Assembly Election campaign trail is covered by most of the mainstream media outlets, the traders’ discontent over the GST implementation, the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s jibe at Modi’s anti-people and pro-corporate policies, Narendra Modi’s blame on the Congress for stopping development in the state, which, ironically, he ruled himself for 13 years out of BJP’s 22-year-long rule, the Patidar leadership expressing angst against the BJP rule etc., gets featured, however, these media outlets simply avoid showing the existence of a strong communal antagonism in Gujarat. The extreme hatred against the Muslim community that exists within the upper-caste Gujarati Hindus and capitalising which the BJP made a kill for two decades, remains unmentioned even now.
The Congress is capitalising on the Patidar discontent and it’s trying to use the firebrand upper-caste Patidar leader, Hardik Patel, along with the Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani as its pawns in its first major attempt in decades to dislodge the Narendra Modi-sponsored BJP government in the state. However, the Patidar movement itself is a movement of a socio-economically dominant section, a feudal landlord class asserting its power and flexing its muscle for a larger share of the pie, when it already enjoys the lion’s share of the rural economy. The Patidars have supported the BJP for so long due to the party’s unwavering commitment to the strengthening of feudal rule in the countryside of Gujarat. The anti-Muslim hysteria spread by the BJP and the RSS also helped it to polarise the Patidars for so long as they shared a common hatred against the minority community. The Patidar movement has not turned secular, it still survives upon an inherent hatred towards the Muslims, Dalits and other backward castes, yet, it is absolved of the sins and is embraced by the opposition very uncritically.
On the other side, the struggle of the Dalits since 2016 has been one for the greater economic and social rights in a society where the community is not only ostracised and marginalised but also exploited in the most inhuman way by the upper-caste thugs who form the core support base of the BJP. The flogging of Dalits by the cow vigilante in Una brought the BJP to knees before the Dalit might and even after booting out Anandiben Patel and installing Vijay Rupani on the throne, the saffron camp was not able to gauge the temperament of the Dalit community, which mostly works as its pawn against the Muslim community during riots and pogroms. The government tried to fool the Dalits with hogwash measures, however, the demand for land and livelihood by the Dalit community in a state reeling from the dual attack of demonetisation and GST is something that the government of the BJP cannot and will not accommodate. This has isolated the Dalits from the saffron camp and, despite being a thorn in the eyes of the Patidars, the Dalits are wooed by the Congress in its attempt to forge a strong opposition to the BJP’s victory cavalcade.
While the Patidars and the Dalits are still getting the limelight, the former the most and the latter a very little, the Muslims and the tribals are totally left to fend for themselves. The government never spoke for them since 2002, especially for the Muslims, now even the opposition, the Congress Party, is not talking about them. The Congress Vice President is peddling the notorious soft-Hindutva tactic of the party, which helps the Hindutva camp at the end. Though Rahul Gandhi visited different Hindu religious shrines and offered prayers, to woo the upper-caste Hindu voters of the state, he didn’t talk about the inhuman condition in which the Muslim community of the state is living in since the last 22 years. His promises don’t include any commitment to punish the perpetrators of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom organised by the RSS and supported by the state machinery. Even recently, an investigative journalist Rana Ayyub published her investigation records – Gujarat Files, which shows the complicity of the state machinery, the saffron politicians and bureaucrats in the 2002 pogrom and the fake encounters. To save its Hindu image, the Congress has foregone on the promises of “secularism” that it baits upon in other states and in national media meets. It has decided to sacrifice the demand for fair trial of the 2002 pogrom and is not raising questions on the systematic persecution of the minority community in the state.
The overall situation in Gujarat is very critical and volatile. The RSS and the BJP are determined to sweep the Gujarat Assembly Election with an absolute majority and increase the saffron seat count, which will even surpass what the party won under Narendra Modi, as Modi’s poll-manager Amit Shah is taking it up as a personal challenge, because it’s now a prestige issue for the Modi-Shah camp. The party and the different Hindutva outfits under the RSS are ready to employ all tactical weapons available in their arsenal to meet the final goal, even if it means flaring up communal tension on a limited scale. It must be noted that during none of his election rallies the prime minister mentioned the much-hyped “Gujarat-model” of development, which won him a nationwide unprecedented electoral victory in 2017. As the development plank isn’t floating in the post-flood, demonetisation and GST devastated Gujarat, the BJP is resorting to its family business of inciting communal trouble and using the old tricks of communal polarisation, especially of the OBC and Dalits under the Hindutva umbrella, to win the Gujarat Assembly Election.
As both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress are racing towards wooing the Hindu majority by playing communal card in their own ways, the issues of the farmers, who suffer due to heavy burden of debt, devastation by flood, a fraudulent crop insurance scheme, poor rural infrastructure and credit system, etc., the plight of the working class who are exploited and rendered right-less by the corporate houses on whose lap the BJP dances – remains unheard and despite the Congress’ roar against the BJP’s corporate appeasement policies, there is no promise made by the party to promote the cause of the working class in the fear of losing the funds flowing from those very corporate houses to its own coffer. In a sum total, even if the BJP loses the Gujarat Assembly Election, which is quite unlikely due to its immense fund, muscle power and communal trouble inciting skills, the Congress won’t be able to deliver any better governance.
The real alternative to the BJP and its hate-mongering, communal agenda is not the Congress but a democratic, progressive, pro-worker, pro-peasant, secular and left-wing political bloc that can immediately provide land to the landless-poor peasantry and the Dalits, work towards ending social discrimination against the Dalits, their ostracisation, reinstate the equality of the Muslims in the society and end the violent reign on them by punishing the perpetrators of communal genocide and riots in the state and above all, the political bloc that can heroically dismantle the evil corporate-feudal-political nexus in the state and purge the Brahminical feudal elements from the corridor of power by a revolutionary movement. Gujarat needs the rule of the overwhelming part of its population, i.e. the working class and peasants, any power that doesn’t truly represents the interests of these two classes will take Gujarat down the same line of cronyism, corporate appeasement and corruption like Modi & Co. did for decades. Real change lies within the mass movements, in the struggle of the working class against the big corporate houses that deny them the basic minimum rights, in the struggle of the peasants for land rights and for ending feudal rule, in the struggle of the Dalits and Muslims for equal rights and a right to live their lives with dignity. Without achieving these goals, all changes will remain cosmetic, toothless and incomplete.