Godhra riots: The ‘ethnic cleansing’ which catapulted far right to the Centre

It has been 16 years since Godhra riots and we live in an India where riots are passé and lynching of Muslims is in vogue. Modi’s India is out to completely erase the secular, tolerant Nehruvian India

Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Zafar Agha

On February 27, a train was burnt by a riotous mob at Godhra station and it led to the death of over 50 ­Ram karsevaks’. A day later, on this day, February 28, almost all of Gujarat was set on fire and mobs went on a rampage leading to the worst riots of independent India which was described by the former Congress President Sonia Gandhi as ‘ethnic cleansing’. Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat simply called the mass murder of Muslims as revenge and justified it in Newtonian terms as “every action has its own reaction”.

It has been 16 years since Gujarat riots and it fundamentally altered India’s social, political and economic context. We live in Modi’s India which is out to completely erase Nehruvian India. There has been a pure and simple paradigm shift in Indian politics—instead of left of centre parties led by the Congress, we have far right politics led by BJP and its allies at the helm. We now live in an India where hate politics, which was initiated and perfected in Gujarat, is now an accepted poll winning strategy. It is an India where riots are passé and lynching of Muslims is in vogue. It is an India that is aiming to compete with Pakistan, as non-state actors labelling themselves as Hindu champions go on a rampage while state authorities look the other way.

Let’s be clear that the man who has transformed the liberal, secular and modern India into a sort of majoritarian state is Narendra Modi. India never had a prime minister like Modi. He is not only just a right-winger, but also takes pride being a Hindu leader under whose Raj minorities do not count at all. Can you Imagine a prime minister other than Narendra Modi stating with straight face that he was pained at Gujarat riots deaths as much as he could have been at the ‘death of a puppy dying under a car wheels’?

Much water has flown under river Sabarmati since Gujarat riots of 2002 shook India. Much has also changed in the country since then. Nehru’s liberalism is out of fashion. Instead, we are living in an India where a Yogi heads the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh and publicly owns the fact that criminals are being killed in encounters in his province. We are now living in India where the ruling party’s President had been behind bars for staging an alleged fake encounter. It is out and out far right India politically speaking.

It is a long civilisational journey for a country that had been proud of its inclusive ethos. It also means that India has changed socially too. Muslim bashing, for instance, is new normal in the middle classes. It is the new normal now for a Muslim to come back disappointed on a house-hunting mission simply because he has an Islamic background. It is not new that Muslims have faced problems in this country. They have been facing the music since 1947 for portioning India. But it was never so bad as it is now even them. A Muslim is nothing but a terrorist in Modi times. How else do you get WhatsApp messages which state: “all Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims’’.

Let’s us not forget that minority bashing is an old tactic of far right politicians from Hitler’s time. The BJP poll winning strategy since Gujarat riots has been minority hate politics. But what is new to this kind of politics is liberals’ bashing. Even a Hindu who stands up for just minority riots is labelled ‘anti-national’. A Teesta Seetalvad is almost an untouchable now in Gujarati society, for instance. Liberals are shouted down in TV debates while a ‘nationalist’ TV anchor like Goswami is glorified. Hasn’t this kind of social transformation taken place after Gujarat riots?

Well, Indian economic model too has undergone dramatic changes since Modi’s rise to power. Modinomics replaced Indian welfare state. Crony capitalism twined with the loot of public money from banks is new normal while the share of the poor is being systematically decreased from the nation’s wealth. Corruption has always been haunting the Indian political and economic system. But politicians had to pay for scams in elections. Now Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi rob PNB and flee the country and both the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister do not find it necessary to explain to the nation about the scam. Modi seems to be convinced that his hate-politics model can change the corruption narrative and bring him back to power too. After all, the Gujarat riot model has proved to be a consistent poll winner for Modi.

Gujarat riots have thrown a new political model for winning elections. Ironically, this model has not been a poll-winning strategy alone. It has also transformed India which somewhat now resembles Pakistan, courtesy Gujarat riots.

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