When Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he emphasised on the ‘pride of Gujarat’ at every given occasion, as if it was something every other state which was part of the Indian Union lacked. It started in 2002, while he was canvassing for the assembly elections. He used it to counter the Congress and other parties who raised the issue of anti-Muslim riots.
When the Opposition alleged complicity of the State Government in the riots, Modi told his audiences that they were being insulted. He did not have to answer questions, because his audiences were enthralled with his counter that the people of Gujarat were being insulted.
Later, when the issue was played down by the Congress, after it failed to win the assembly elections, Modi continued to use ‘asmita’ for anything that happened in Gujarat. Every memorandum of understanding signed, irrespective of whether a project took off was showcased as ‘Gujarati asmita’. Every kite festival was about ‘Gujarati asmita’ and every drop of water released from the Sardar Sarovar Dam was about ‘Gujarati asmita’. Given the bipolar polity, ‘Gujarati asmita’ seemed enough to ensure victory.
In 2013, after BJP chose him as the Prime Ministerial candidate, one heard less of ‘Gujarati asmita’. Now it was about ‘India being trampled’ and ‘made a spectacle’ by the Manmohan Singh Government and the Congress party in the eyes of the world.
‘Gujarati asmita’, however, has not died down. It has come back with a bang after a migrant labourer in Sabarkantha allegedly raped a 14-month old baby. The heinous nature of the incident evoked revulsion in everyone’s mind but for a section of people, every migrant labourer who spoke Hindi, from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, were responsible for the toddler’s rape! It was very similar to holding every Muslim in India responsible for the torching of the Sabarmati Express and burning alive of Ram Sewaks.
Thousands of Hindi-speaking labourers have fled different districts of Gujarat in the last one week out of fear. They are not single men but people who have settled down in Gujarat with their families. They are at every bus stand and railway stations, holding on to their children and belongings, ready to make 40-hour tedious journeys. The appeal of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and the police deployed in troubled areas are not enough to reassure the migrants who have been attacked or have seen attacks after the rape. Is this what Gujarati asmita is about?
While news channels’ coverage of the 2002 riots saw the Centre’s intervention and the violence brought down, today, there is no news channel covering the incident. Even newspapers seem reluctant to report the chain of events with the importance they deserve, barring the Indian Express. “I took my four-year-old son to the doctor to calm him down,” the newspaper quoted Rajkumari Jatav, 30, who hails from Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh.
Some have given the logic that the migrants had violated the state Government’s criteria that 80% jobs should be given to domiciles. Is this what Gujarati asmita is about? How can a person seek votes in Varanasi if people from his state and the Government that he installed have implemented such a ‘sons of soil’ policy?
Should not the law be passed that every labourer employed in any part of India has to be paid enough for him to live decently? How can there be such disparity in minimum wages for labourers while one travels from Kerala to Gujarat to Delhi to Odisha? How can the minimum wage be fair if people in Delhi pay a skilled labourer Rs 500, while in Kerala an unskilled labourer is paid Rs 800? Is it not time that the Centre ensures that every factory and every construction site functions only after paying minimum wages that meet international standards? Is this not what we should be proud about? How can reserving 80% jobs for locals be the solution?
The role of Alpesh Thakor, recently-inducted into the Congress, cannot be played down in fanning sectarian trouble. A video doing the rounds has Thakor saying: “These people who have come from outside commit crime, beat up common villagers and go back to their states. They have jobs here in Maruti and other companies but our people do not have jobs,” Thakor told a gathering in Mehsana district. “Even if you consider they are Indians and give them 20% jobs why are Gujaratis thrown out of factories? Gujaratis are dying due to starvation.”
Congress cannot wash its hands of the episode. Thakor is a leader of his caste which the BJP cultivated to counter Hardik Patel, when the Patel agitation gathered steam. Just like Arvind Kejriwal, who was cultivated by the RSS during the India Against Corruption days, Thakor discovered that he had a standing of his own. And when BJP refused to meet his demands, he negotiated with the Congress, just before the last assembly elections less than a year ago.
Congress will pay for not doing due diligence while recruiting fresh blood into the party. Thakor is the leader of his community and does not represent the Congress ethos of taking every caste and community along with it. The party needs to rein him in or expel him. However, the short-cut wisdom would be to have him wreak havoc in Gujarat, along with the other nefarious elements that have been pumped up by ‘asmita’ since the turn of the millennium.
By the end of this month, we will have Modi talking about the biggest asmita, while he unveils the giant statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel on the banks of the Narmada. The asmita took hundreds of Chinese skilled workers and material to be completed. It is double the size of the Statue of Liberty and several decades later, Gujarat may be able to recover the cost from tourists. But how many would realise during the inauguration that a statue to honour a man who united India is a monument of irony that has to silently witness the divisive nature of current day politicians? What is the use of a statue of unity when people are taught to hate fellow citizens? What good is it spending thousands of crores on a statue if the idea of India that Gandhi preached and which Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel tried to implement is destroyed by charlatans?
After the recent #MeToo storm, a journalist asked a representative of an organisation which gives regular sermons on ‘Bharatiya Sanskriti’ for its reaction. She was told not to expect a reaction as the men-only organisation feared many of its members may tweet about abuses they have suffered.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 15th October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 42)