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Ram Navami stone pelting: Why for us Gujaratis, this violence feels like déjà vu

Have we all become complacent after experiencing 20 years of peace? Or have we forgotten the history and are condemned to repeat it.

Those who forget the history are condemned to repeat it.

When someone talks about communal riots in Gujarat, they always talk about 2002 riots that took place after a train compartment carrying Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya was set on fire in Godhra killing 60 people. But for those of us who have lived in this great state for generations, communal violence was so frequent that the post 2002 peace now appears like a silence before the storm.

Recently, on the occasion of Ram Navami, at least two incidents of violence were reported from Gujarat where stones were pelted on the procession of Shri Ram. The stones were pelted largely from mosques after the shobha yatra passed through ‘Muslim Area’ as noted by the ‘liberal journalists’ in India. Remember, India is secular but some pockets in the are ‘Muslim Areas’ where perhaps just existence of a Hindu could be ‘provocative’.

For those who live outside Gujarat, they would draw a parallel between these incidences in Himmatnagar and Khambhat and other such incidences that happened across India on the same evening. But for average Gujaratis, especially those who live in the metros of Gujarat like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat this was a déjà vu moment for us.

The so-called liberals of India have created this image that Gujarat was a land of peace before 2002. That it was an utopian dream where communal harmony was rooted firmly. Gather around, as I take you down the memory lane and the bloodied history of Gujarat right from the time of partition to 2002.

Prior to 2002 riots, communal violence would erupt like snap of a finger. On Uttarayan, the annual kite-flying festival, communal clashes would erupt over cutting of kites in old cities where people of both communities ‘live in communal harmony’. On Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath, when the procession would pass through certain areas, the chariots would get attacked, stones would be pelted. So much that this communal violence was one of the prime reason Gujaratis have not voted back Congress to power again since 1998.

Being a kid in 1985 and then a youngster in 1992, I believe the 2002 riots were nothing against those two black chapters in Gujarat’s history of law and order. As I said, ever since independence, riots in Gujarat have happened on communal lines, well mostly, but Gujarat has seen its streets getting burnt on a small issue of kite flying as well. Smallest dispute between a Hindu and a Muslim kid on who got better of a particular kite-war has started the worst riots in the cities like Ahmedabad in past. This is our lived history.

But, because the well-oiled ecosystem works with the utmost professionalism, the mainstream media of India have created a false picture that Gujarat has been the victim of riots only in 2002. As a matter of fact, Gujarat is more than 90% peaceful ever since the 2002 riots. That burning alive of 60 Hindus did not trigger the worst communal riots in the state quite speaks volumes of how much better law and order situation was that Modi as CM did not let the situation get out of control.

The thing is that Gujarat has seen most of its riots during the rule of Congress or non-BJP governments. According to the reports between 1961 and 1971, the first decade of Gujarat after it was created as separate state, 16 out of 19 districts at that time experienced riots. In the single year of 1969, there were not less than 578 incidences of communal riots registered in Gujarat.  

During this decade there were three Congress Chief Ministers who were in the power, namely Jivraj Mehta, Balwantrai Mehta, and Hitendra Desai. Notably, after Hitendra Desai, the Gujarat assembly was dissolved and the president’s rule continued for 309 days in the state! Such was the mess Congress created between Hindus and Muslims during the first decade itself after Gujarat was born. Whether the Congress chief ministers failed to control the riots or they allowed riots to happen to appease their political lines is a big question mark even today.

In a perfect world, a political party that has a thumping majority in an assembly would try its best that not a single riot would happen in the state. But the Congress party is a different entity altogether. In the 1980 assembly elections Congress secured a record 141 seats out of 182 seats in the house, 66 more than the previous time. This is a record even the most popular CM of Gujarat to date Narendra Modi was unable to eclipse.

These many seats would allow the ruling party to further its development agenda without a single hurdle. Instead, the Congress party under Madhavsinh Solanki implemented the KHAM theory and started reservation politics that eventually turned into upper caste hate. Patels (or Patidaars as they are now popularly known as) were targeted primarily by the then ruling party and riots between upper and lower castes of Gujarat unfolded. Eventually, after the violent Anamat Andolan of 1985 that lasted for more than five months, Madhavsinh Solanki had to resign despite winning 141 seats just four and a bit years ago.

The twist in the tale came when these caste-based riots turned into or were allowed to turn into communal riots just to divide the attention of the public anger. Muslim goondas like Abdul Latif were given a free hand and Hindus were killed, mainly in the old city of Ahmedabad. The same place where, as I said before, riots would spark even on kite-wars. The biggest newspaper at that time was Gujarat Samachar. Its Prajabandhu Press was burnt down during these riots. Shockingly during the peak of these riots, even Gujarat police observed a strike for one day. Law and order has been a state subject. Imagine the lawlessness in Gujarat during those twenty hours under Congress rule.

In the 1990 elections, Chimanbhai Patel came to power on the anti-Congress wave as Janata Dal candidate and formed the government with the BJP as a partner. Just before demolition of disputed structure at Ayodhya often referred to as ‘Babri Masjid’, Gujarat BJP had parted away from Chimanbhai’s Janata Dal Gujarat. In return, Chimanbhai merged his party with Congress against which he had fought the elections just two years prior. Post demolition of disputed structure, many parts of India including Gujarat were engulfed in communal riots.

The following year the iconic Ahmedabad Rath Yatra of Bhagwan Jagannath was marred with violence too. In the walled area of Shahpur and Dariapur, which are ‘communally sensitive areas’ stones were pelted on three Raths of Bhagwan Jagannath, Balbhadra, and Subhadra. There was even an attempt to hijack them. For four days Ahmedabad was lawless and goondas were at large, and the police were just a mute spectator. Finally, all three raths were taken inside the Jagannath Temple in the Jamalpur area of the city under police+army protection.

After the Ayodhya structure was demolished worst riots were organized in Gujarat. Again Ahmedabad, Vadodara, and Surat became the epicenter of those riots. After a bit of a lull, there were ‘revenge riots’ that took place a few months later. This time the incidences of stabbing and petrol bombs became normal in the walled cities. Just like in past this time also many of Gujarat’s metros were handed over to the army. A week-long curfew and a regular army flag marches became a new normal for Gujaratis during those times.

Remember the scene in Shah Rukh Khan starrer film Raees where the Bollywood actor plays role inspired from Don Abdul Latif throws petrol bomb on procession?

Gujarat lived this fiction as reality. Of course, the filmmakers watered down and glorified a bootlegger, a criminal and a terrorist but petrol bombs on processions were accurately depicted.

Then came the 2002 riots, which are similar in nature to what Gujaratis witnessed in 1985 and in 1992, but were better dealt with by the then-Gujarat government within a few days’ time, despite getting no police help from the neighboring Congress-ruled states. Yes, many people did get killed in 2002, and properties were burnt and looted like in the previous riots, but numbers of the culprits of those incidents are behind bars now.

The major difference between all the riots that happened in Gujarat from 1960 till 2002, was that after the 2002 riots even the Chief Minister and the Home Minister of the state were trialed and after the due procedure observed by the law enforcement agencies, both were cleared or acquitted. But after the 1969 riots, the recommendations by the judicial commission of the Jagmohan Reddy and Nusserwanji Commission were ignored by the successive government in Gujarat.

The Dave Commission that was appointed to find the root causes of the 1985 riots in Gujarat by the Congress government later did not accept its recommendations. The Chauhan Commission that was looking for findings in the Surat violence of 1992 was not given the required 15 days extension by the Congress government which was supported by Shankersinh Vaghela and eventually the commission had to be dispersed.

In the contrast, the Nanavati-Mehta Commission which was appointed by Narendra Modi led BJP government after the 2002 burning of Sabarmati Express and the aftermath of the riots, not only completed its tenor but also submitted its findings in two parts, first in 2008 and then in 2014.

After 2002, Gujarat is at peace largely, just there was some violence during the Patidar Anamat Andolan of 2016, but they were nowhere near to what Gujarat has witnessed in past. Looking at the history of riots in Gujarat one would definitely make a conclusion that despite being in a full majority for years in Gujarat, the Congress either couldn’t control the riots as it should, but in fact, it allowed them to spread. Not only that it didn’t even implement the recommendations of the various judicial commissions appointed by its government to give justice to those who were affected by some horrendous riots of its times, no matter the affected people were Hindus or Muslims.

Except, now the hood of communal violence is being raised in Gujarat again after 20 years of peace. First it was Kishan Bharwad murder case where he was killed by Islamists over allegations of blasphemy and now the violence on Ram Navami. Have we all become complacent after experiencing 20 years of peace? Or have we forgotten the history and are condemned to repeat it.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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