Gujarat Polls: Communal and Caste Narratives Take Centrestage
The tone has been set for the communal narratives to take over, it may now only get worse hereon
An old adage can safely be twisted in the context of politics in Gujarat and it goes, "If there are polls in Gujarat, can communal and caste narratives be far behind?" This has been held true at least for the last three decades. History is repeating itself in this context once again as the state moves towards another Assembly polls scheduled to be held in the next couple of months. The filth and muck has started flying all over. And there is still some time to go before the votes are actually polled.
Something that does not fail to surprise the observers and reporters who have been covering the state, is the fact that the political class and their foot soldiers stoop to new levels every time. The language used against political opponents can put any democracy to shame.
To make matters worse the same unethical content is picked up by the pliant media to carry out debates that have all the potential to vitiate the atmosphere further. One is compelled to think and rethink that this is a state that gave iconic leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel.
So it was not surprising to see reports of posters with pictures of the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a skullcap that had surfaced in several prominent cities of the state including Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot. There were also banners calling him 'anti Hindu' asking him to 'go back'.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went a step ahead and took to twitter with #Hindu_Virodhi_AAP and posted a tweet calling out several AAP leaders as anti Hindu under the tagline 'Hindu devi devtaon thi AAP ni atli nafrat kem' (Why does AAP hate Hindu deities so much?).
On its part the AAP too cannot be absolved of resorting to the narrative when Kejriwal in an address went on to reportedly claim that he was born on Janmashtami and vowed to 'vanquish the descendents of Kansa'. This led to a fresh round of allegations and counter allegations promising to go much further in coming days.
What had reportedly triggered off the communal slugfest were the alleged video clips doing the rounds of AAP's minister in Delhi Rajendra Pal Gautam at an alleged 'religious conversion' event. Gautam has reportedly tendered his resignation as a minister after the row over 'conversion to Buddhism' event of October 5.
Things did not stop over there as soon there were two old videos of the AAP leader Gopal Italia doing the rounds wherein he had reportedly called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a 'lowly person' and Hindi temples as places of 'exploitation'.
The AAP leaders have jumped in saying that the BJP is trying to divert the attention of the masses. Party leader Manoj Sorathia came out saying that the BJP has been in power in Gujarat for the past 27 years. Instead of showing its work over the last 27 years, an attempt is being made to change the election narrative by showing old videos of Italia.
Taking the fight to the next level, the AAP leadership is accusing the BJP of targeting Italia since he is a Patidar (Patel). "Video is not important. The important thing is the issues. Who will answer the questions of the people of Gujarat? Who will provide jobs, education, health facilities for the families of the people of Gujarat?" he said.
Meanwhile, Narendra Modi too is coming into his own as the politician of the state. On Monday while addressing a gathering in Amod in Bharuch district, he spoke of a Congress 'conspiracy' to convince the people residing in the villages to vote against his party. He warned the audience that the Congress might appear to be inactive but is quietly working in the villages and towns.
He said the Congress workers were holding 'Khatlaa baithaks' (meetings on cots in village squares) but these meetings are not being reported in the media. People should not remain complacent about Congress not doing rallies or press conferences, he said.
Since the event was close to the catchment area of the Narmada river, he did not miss the opportunity to remind the people about the so called 'urban Naxals' who had opposed and were responsible for delaying the Narmada project.
In the last several elections Modi was able to play victim to the advantage of the BJP. One can recall how he had encashed the attacks on him in the wake of 2002 anti Muslim pogrom that had followed the Godhra train burning incident and had led the party to a landslide victory.
In 2007, it was the 'maut ke saudagar' comment coming from Congress leadership that he had converted to the BJP's advantage. Then in 2012 he had accused the central government led by the Congress of being unfair and unjust to Gujarat and repeated the performance.
During his recent visit he addressed a gathering near Modhera where he went on to thank the people of Gujarat for putting their faith in him and seeing his work, not his caste. He has also started a new narrative alleging that the Congress has 'outsourced' the contract of abusing him and running him down to others.
The Congress hit back saying that the people of Gujarat cannot understand whether Modi is the Prime Minister of the country or BJP's 'propaganda minister'. Party spokesperson Alok Sharma attacked Modi on the BJP's 'urban Naxal' narrative saying, "In the last eight years the BJP has been in power at the centre. Why has no action been taken on the issue?"
In an interesting development four Congress workers from Surat have knocked the doors of the state High Court seeking bail and compensation after they were booked and detained under the Prevention of Anti-social Activities Act (PASA). They have claimed that they were booked under PASA for showing black flags to Modi's convoy on September 29 when he was on way to Limbayat to address a public meeting.
The Police however reportedly claimed that the detention followed registration of cases against them for trying to obstruct a police official from carrying out his duty and endangering his life besides making obscene gestures at women present at the event.
The BJP meanwhile has launched a 'Gaurav Yatra' on five separate routes that will focus on the tribal areas of the state. It aims to cover 144 of the 182 Assembly constituencies over 10 days. It needs to be pointed out here that in the last Assembly polls, the saffron party had managed to win just nine of the 27 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the state while the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) had won two. The rest were pocketed by the Congress.
The five routes being undertaken include Becharaji in Mehsana to Mata no Madh in Kutch, Dwarka to Porbandar, Zanzaraka in Ahmedabad to Somnath, Unai in Navsari to Fagvel in Kheda and Unai to Ambaji in North Gujarat.
This is the third Gaurav Yatra after the ones held earlier in the run up to the 2002 and 2017 Assembly polls. "The name Gaurav Yatra evokes memories of the Yatra of 2002 that was laced with high pitched communal narratives. These narratives had not only targeted the Muslims but also the Christians in the name of the Chief Election Commissioner James Michael Lyngdoh," pointed out an Ahmedabad based observer.
The anti Muslim narrative continues to play side by side. Presently it is Gujarat's minister of state for home Harsh Sanghavi who has courted controversy over his reported comments following the public flogging of nine Muslims for allegedly disrupting a garba event in Kheda. Sanghavi reportedly praised the cops for the flogging.
The Minority Co-ordination Committee (MCC) of Gujarat has taken up the matter with the state's Governor Acharya Devvrat seeking 'appropriate corrective action' against Sanghavi for his 'deplorable statements'.
In a letter addressed to the Governor, MCC convener Mujahid Nafees stated, "The conduct of Sanghavi in expressing gratitude to the wrong doers not only sends a wrong message but glorifies the absence of rule of law and due process. This, by a public servant/MLA and a minister who has sworn allegiance to the Constitution of India and only upon such swearing has he been conferred his designation, says something about the sad state of affairs that we have run into and which shall have devastating social consequences and hence we approach your good self to intervene in this serious matter."
The letter further stated, "A minister of state for home which oversees the law and order situation in the state, someone who is at the helm of affairs makes a statement as such, it is not a matter to be swept under the carpet. This stamp of approval throws focus on the complicity of those governing in violence and spreading open hatred towards Muslims in our country.
"Sir, such statements by a minister of state for home stands testimony to the fact that wrongdoers as far as they are committing wrongs against the minority community would enjoy official patronage and protection. Our democracy has thrived upon the diversity that it enjoys in all senses including diversity in people and their faiths which is a significant asset. The ruling dispensation which has been on a spree of spreading bigotry and encouraging violence and hatred against Muslims and minority communities are now institutionalising the same and the act of Sanghavi is an outcome of the same."
The MCC through its advocate Anand Yagnik has also served a legal notice to the authorities seeking a probe into the matter. Director General of Police (DGP) Ashish Bhatia has reportedly ordered an inquiry into the matter.
However, the notice says, "It is stated and submitted that any right thinking citizen would rightly apprehend for the entire inquiry to be futile and hence in the interest of justice and the constitutional ideals, for the inquiry to be impartial, fair and transparent, it is incumbent that the same be done by a retired judge of the High Court."
Even the Pakistan narrative that has become a hallmark of every poll in Gujarat is slowly picking up. The BJP has tweeted against the 'drug mafia' of Pakistan while pointing towards the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the state police and the Coast Guard confiscating drugs worth Rs 350 crores. The tagline of the tweet says, "There is safety because there is BJP."
It further reads, "the BJP government will not spare those conniving with Pakistani drug mafia to spread the poison of drugs across India. Gujarat is saving the entire country from this poison."
The tone has been set for the communal and caste narratives to take over the poll campaign in a big way. Things are expected to only get worse from here.