Saturday, May 19, 2007

Gujarat and Indian democracy

Gujarat has been at the centre of Indian politics right from the time of Mahatma Gandhi. It's a beautiful state with a rich historical legacy, populated by extraordinarily affable people. The six years I was there, from 1990 to 96, are most memorable: the goodness of people outweighing the troubles of post-Babri Masjid demolition.

I always wonder how can such a state be so caught up in violence and radical ideology. Violence there is an inexplicable abberation for me. I haven't understood how such a state where people of all relgions, especially Hindus and Muslims, are so dependent on each other, mainly for business, could nurture within itself violently divisive tendencies. Inspite of all this, interestingly, people, especially women, feel much safe at night, crime rate is low!

The latest issue of The Chronicle Review carries an article Fears for Democracy in India by Martha C Nussbaum. She is a professor in philosophy at the University of Chicago and has authored The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future. The book is due for publication this week by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

A good portion of the article is devoted to the troubles in Gujarat post-Feb 27, 2002. That was a decisive turning point for Gujarat. She says:
  • "He (Narendra Modi) was later (after the Godhra carnage) re-elected on a platform that focused on religious hatred.... What has been happening in India is a serious threat to the future of democracy in the world."

We have heard this point before. But what is interesting is this observation of Martha:

  • The real "clash of civilizations" is not between "Islam" and "the West," but instead within virtually all modern nations — between people who are prepared to live on terms of equal respect with others who are different, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity and the domination of a single "pure" religious and ethnic tradition. At a deeper level, as Gandhi claimed, it is a clash within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

  • "What we see in Gujarat is not a simplistic, comforting thesis, but something more disturbing: the fact that in a thriving democracy, many individuals are unable to live with others who are different, on terms of mutual respect and amity. They seek total domination as the only road to security and pride. That is a phenomenon well known in democracies around the world, and it has nothing to do with an alleged Muslim monolith, and, really, very little to do with religion as such."

While on an intellectual and academic plane Martha makes a lot of sense, on a practical level we need to understand the current spate of violence. Hasn't it gone beyond issues of "clash of civilisations" or "clash within civilisations" as Martha would like to put it? Specifically, let us take yesterday's explosion inside the Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad. Earlier such incidents used to trigger a cycle of violence like the Babri Masjid demolition or the Sabarmati Express fire did. But the Hyderabad blast and earlier similar ones in Malegaon, Mumbai, Delhi, have stopped at that.

Are people (politicians included) in India getting fed up of stoking communal embers? Are we finally seeing an end to pan-Indian communal conflagrations at the slightest provocation?


  1. Dear Pradeep,

    I'm glad you wrote about this book on Gujarat. My book travels from 1975 to 2007. It deals with the larger issue of walled identities within our country - an issue that was as real then as now. As I mentioned to you, the title is: Dreams of One Country.

    I'll call you sometime this week. John.

  2. nice reading! insightful entry!

  3. hey didnt u study at the alliance francaise in the summer of 1988?

  4. -- Dr John,
    We shall meet up... once you are free...

    -- Payal,
    Thanks, but I can't access your blog!

    -- Anon,
    Yes, I did! But which Alliance are you refering to?

  5. alliance francaise de trivandrum?

  6. -- Anon,
    Yes indeed! Can I know who you are?