'Gujarat model not about vikas but majoritarianism, politicisation, surveillance'

History will be re-written to an extent that nobody will remember what happened in Gujarat 20 years ago, says Indologist Christophe Jaffrelot

India has become a surveillance state under Narendra Modi (pictured) and Amit Shah, says author Christophe Jaffrelot (photo: PTI)
India has become a surveillance state under Narendra Modi (pictured) and Amit Shah, says author Christophe Jaffrelot (photo: PTI)

Ashis Ray

At a packed lecture theatre at the London School of Economics, French political scientist and Indologist Christophe Jaffrelot was asked if he had omitted anything that he would have liked to include in his book Gujarat Under Modi: Laboratory of Today’s India, which he was releasing.

He answered that he would have liked to do a chapter on the surveillance state India has become under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, but refrained from it as he didn’t possess the necessary data to meet the rigours of an academic work. He, however, placed on record: "The kind of surveillance we see today (in India) was invented by Amit Shah in Gujarat 20 years ago."

Jaffrelot’s publication is a culmination of 20 years of research. He had planned to launch the book in 2013, he recalled, but jokingly added that he was persuaded by "publishers who are also legal advisers" not to do so. According to him, they thought it was "high risk", and he was told that "some passages may be deemed to be hurtful toward the people of Gujarat", given his view of Modi. He was asked to cut so many passages that he preferred not to publish it at all.

Jaffrelot revisited the manuscript because, in his view, "very soon history will be re-written to such an extent that nobody will have any idea of what happened in Gujarat 20 years ago".

The book is based on wide-ranging interviews but, he said, he has not cited the identities of his interviewees in order to protect them, "especially the policemen".

To him, the ‘Gujarat model’ is not the success story Modi blusters about, but the pillars of communal polarisation — "that peaked in 2002 with the pogrom… the riots were the "recipe of electoral success for the BJP", he recalled — resulting in Hindu majoritarianism, the politicisation of state institutions, including the police and judiciary, a political economy implying crony capitalism and growing inequalities and, of course, populist techniques of communication. "Everything we see today (of India)," he remarked, "was there before (in Gujarat)."     

Jaffrelot undertook a constituency-by-constituency case study of Gujarat, which unearthed that "where riots occurred, BJP won seats in 2002, whereas it did not win almost any seat where there were no riots". In other words, polarisation by sparking violence worked.

He also maintained that "fake encounters" between police and Muslims between 2003 and 2006 continued to polarise. Since 2014, he stated, this has manifested in lynching of Muslim farmers, 'love jihad' campaigns, and such like.

In short, he explained that the polarisation modus operandi was invented in Gujarat and upgraded to the national level, and elaborated that after the 2002 riots, "the policemen who had done their job had to be side-lined, those who were complicit had to be promoted" — and that is precisely what happened! It was a conversion of the state police "into an instrument of a political agenda".

Jaffrelot added: "It’s largely true of the judiciary as well." In effect, he underlined, the two pillars of the rule of law "have (since 2003) been completely undermined in Gujarat". In addition to that, "the rule of the vigilantes", as he called it, prevails.

If there was a ringing message for Indians who have been misled and for powers who tom-tom the importance of democracy, it was that Modi is the "same man using the same techniques" as he did when the United States de jure and the European Union and the United Kingdom de facto imposed sanctions against him by banning him from their territories. They have since turned a blind eye, salivating at the size of the Indian market and Modi’s eagerness to spend lavishly on military hardware.           

Jaffrelot pointed out that Modi as chief minister never won as many seats as his Congress party counterpart Madhav Singh Solanki did in 1985. He analysed, though, that Hindutva in Gujarat was a response to Solanki’s introduction of affirmative action for socially and economically backward classes, respecting the recommendations of the Bakshi Commission. Representing the privileged sections, the BJP and its Hindu right allies reacted with anti-reservation unrest.

Interestingly, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi is now leading an all-India charge on behalf of the socially and economically neglected sections of Indian society in demanding a caste census and economic, political and social justice. It is a confrontation the Hindutva brigade may have won in Gujarat; but the jury is out on who will triumph this time.

Solanki successfully constructed a coalition of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims (KHAM). Rahul and his INDIA partners are in the process of cementing a partnership between progressive upper caste Hindus, OBCs, Dalits and Muslims, not to mention other minorities.

In answer to a question on Rahul’s cry for a caste census, Jaffrelot replied: "Any caste census will reveal that OBCs and even Dalits are under-represented in the state apparatus."

Ashis Ray can be followed @ashiscray on X

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