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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Analysis: Gujarat's siege mentality
Rioters in Ahmedabad
Hardliners have fuelled resentment against Muslims

India's western state of Gujarat should be a model of Hindu-Muslim integration.


Muslims are expected to evolve an identity which culturally submits to the Hindu ethos

Sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed

For centuries, the two communities co-existed in apparent harmony.

Muslims were among the first traders to settle and prosper in what became one of the country's most entrepreneurial states.

They are said to have assimilated with ease and adopted a strong Gujarati identity.

Yet it is their very success that has made them so vulnerable to the mob carnage that has engulfed the state since February.

Diverse cultures

India's constitution, enacted in 1950, clearly sets out a vision of a modern, secular, integrated society.

Body of Muslim man on streets of Ahmedabad
There are harsh lessons to be learned from Gujarat

But according to sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed, the Hindu hardliners who have risen to prominence in recent decades have a very different idea of what integration should mean.

The constitution, he says, "gives a lot of space to a variety of diverse cultures and practices".

The Hindu hardline view, however, is rigid in its adherence to symbols and rituals.

Mr Ahmed sees among hardliners an entirely different belief that in order to integrate into Indian society, Muslims are "expected to evolve an identity which culturally submits to the Hindu ethos".

And it is an ethos that is gaining in strength and popularity in Gujarat.

Violence

The state is no stranger to communal violence. Riots broke out in 1969 and again in 1985.

But it was the launch in 1989 of the campaign to build a temple in Ayodhya on the site of the 16th century Babri mosque that unleashed hardline Hindu support in the state.


We intend to stay here. In fact, even after we die, we will be buried right here

Muslim banker in Gujarat

The crusade, spearheaded by now Home Minister LK Advani, garnered massive support for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which eventually took power in the state in 1995.

The BJP, which aside from a one-and-a-half year break has been in power ever since, has had both the time and the opportunity to set the terms for its version of a Hindu society.

The party has tried hard to convince its constituency that minorities, especially Muslims in India, have been pampered by other political parties.

Long years of single-party rule in Gujarat have been used to make the majority Hindu community feel like a minority.

Resentment

Hindus have been encouraged to believe that Muslims are taking them for a ride in their own land.

This has fuelled resentment over issues such as the fact that Muslims have their own separate laws, including one that allows them to have four wives.

Hindu holy man
Support for hardline Hindu groups is increasing

"If only there was a uniform civil code for all citizens in India, there would be no problems," said Rakesh Rathod, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council.

The resentments have created a siege mentality among Hindus that has set the stage for the violent backlash of recent months.

The main opposition Congress party has concentrated its energies on fighting electoral battles in Delhi, leaving the BJP and its sister organisations free to spread their message in the state uncontested.

Critics also say that Congress lacks the wider ideological motivation to counter the BJP's worldview.

Analysts say that the situation in Gujarat has become even more complex given the state's rapid economic development.

"Groups very low down the social and economic order until recently have suddenly due to new economic opportunities become wealthy and powerful," said local journalist Dev Dutt.

"This has happened too quickly, upsetting old equations, and social tensions have often found an easy release in violence."

Lessons to learn

There are fears that Gujarat may not be just an isolated case, and may actually mirror conditions in some other parts of modern India.

Man walks through rubble in Ahmedabad
Hardline Hindus believe Muslims are pampered

Analysts say it is important for Indians to learn the lessons of Gujarat, particularly because people have no choice but to live together.

"Where would we go?" asked A Master, a Muslim bank manager in Ahmedabad.

"We intend to stay here. In fact, even after we die, we will be buried right here. No part of us will be travelling to Pakistan," he said.

And that, perhaps, is the reality that modern India needs to come to terms with.

Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state

Background

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See also:

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