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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Analysis: Why is Gujarat so violent?
Communal rioting in Ahmedabad
Ahmedabad has become a communal flashpoint

In the last 40 years, the wheel has turned full circle in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Frustration and unemployment turned many to crime and Gujarat now has a thriving underworld

Social worker Achyut Yagnik
Once famous as the adopted home town of Mahatma Gandhi, an apostle of peace and non-violence, Ahmedabad today is perhaps the most communally sensitive city in the country.

In 1969, nearly 2,500 people were killed there in the region's worst violence between Hindus and Muslims since the subcontinent was split into India and Pakistan in 1947.

A series of communal riots rocked the city in the 1980s and again in 1992 following the demolition of the Babri mosque by Hindu activists in the north Indian town of Ayodhya.

There followed a decade of relative peace, barring a few months of sporadic anti-Christian violence in the state's tribal areas three years ago.

But the bloodbath earlier this year again raised the question of why Gujarat has become so susceptible to communal conflict.

Rapid urbanisation

Social worker Achyut Yagnik, who runs the non-governmental Setu organisation, believes urbanisation and rising prosperity are partly to blame.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Vajpayee's critics say Indian politics is now communal

Rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s turned Gujarat into one of India's richest and industrially developed provinces.

"It's this prosperity which in some ways became a curse for us," Mr Yagnik told the BBC.

"The mushrooming of industry, especially textile mills, meant that there was a large influx of people from other Indian states," he said.

"People who were never really brought up in the Gandhian tradition," he added.

Organised crime

When recession in the 1980s forced the closure of many of the mills, some 50,000 people lost their jobs.

Crime gangs quite openly take sides in communal riots, making the violence that much more bloody and vicious.

"Frustration and unemployment turned many to crime and Gujarat now has a thriving underworld, second only to and closely linked with the underworld in Bombay," Mr Yagnik said.

Muslims constitute only about 12-13 % of the state's population, more or less in line with the rest of the country.

But the fact that one of the state's most powerful underworld dons in the 1980s was a Muslim raised religious tensions.

Huge sums of money have been made smuggling arms, contraband and silver from Pakistan to Bombay via Gujarat.

Much of that money has found its way into the hands of religious extremists, both Hindus and Muslims.

Crime gangs also quite openly take sides in communal riots, making the violence that much more bloody and vicious.

Hindu hardliners

The growth of hardline Hindu organisations in Gujarat in the last 20 years has also antagonised the situation.

The present home minister, LK Advani, began his campaign to build a Rama temple in Ayodhya from Somnath in Gujarat in 1989.

Hardline Hindu in Ayodhya
Radical Hinduism has grown in the last 20 years

The present chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, was handpicked by Mr Advani to join him in the rathyatra, or crusade.

The campaign intensified Hindu-Muslim hostility all over the country.

It also gave the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, a firm foothold in Gujarat.

The VHP has close links with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a relationship that some observers believe has led to the communalisation of Gujarati politics.

It is also the reason given by many Muslims for allegations that security forces stood by and let Hindu mobs rampage across the state.

Whatever the reasons for the ongoing violence, Gujaratis continue to suffer.

Aside from the human tragedy, the state is now losing some 5bn ($103m) rupees a day.

Last year Gujarat was torn apart by an earthquake that killed about 20,000 people. But the wounds from this year's man-made holocaust may take longer to heal.

Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state

Background

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05 Mar 02 | South Asia
04 Mar 02 | South Asia
03 Mar 02 | South Asia
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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