April 30, 2002


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I G Patel

'To call Narendra Modi Chhote Sardar is an insult of that great man'

The first of a series in which eminent Gujaratis speak about the riots that have engulfed and traumatised their native state

This is absolutely not Gujarat's culture. Whatever has happened in Gujarat is a perversion of whatever we have taken pride in so far. I am 77. I was raised in a different world. My mother's best friend was Bhuri Masi. She was a Muslim. Both shared their common, ordinary concerns. Bhuri Masi used to get goat milk to our home. She took me to see the taziya three, four times. She would even request my mother to keep a fast for her child! Behind our house we had some spare rooms. We had given one of the rooms to a Muslim family. They cooked non-vegetarian food. But that was okay. What is wrong about it?

E To Kevo Gujarati

Je hoi keval Gujarati?

(What kind of a Gujarati is he who is merely a Gujarati?)

These lines were written by a great Gujarati poet, Umashankar Joshi.

In the 1950s, when I went to America I was at a loss. I missed my language. I wrote to a friend to send me some Gujarati reading material. He sent me a Diwali issue of some magazine. I don't recall the writer's name, but the article dealt with the idea of Gujarati identity (Gujarati ni asmita). The writer said a Gujarati has that quality which helps him realise a dream, which others think are impossible. He went on to give four examples:

Dadabhai Navroji was the first to dream of Hind Swaraj.

Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata dreamt that India could become an industrial power.

Gandhiji dreamt we could achieve independence through non-violence.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah dreamt he could create Pakistan.

You may not agree with Jinnah, but you can't deny that he achieved something that seemed impossible to others. It is important to note that in this list two are Parsis, one Muslim and one a Gujarati Hindu. That was Gujarat! And that was how it got identified 50 years ago.

What has happened is not just a communal riot. Make no mistake, it is not ordinary. It is unpardonable. I condemn what happened in Godhra. It was horrible. But what happened after Godhra was not just a reaction. The riots were converted into opposition of Muslims. The hatred was delivered by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and young leaders of the BJP.

These were planned riots. I saw it in Baroda, but it was more so in Ahmedabad. Of a cluster of 25 shops one shop was identified as belonging to a Muslim. Hindu girls married to Muslims were targeted. These riots were led by thugs, who were given money and alcohol, and it went on with the government's connivance. One has to fight this attitude of running down a whole community. When people kill others in this manner, how is it different from fascism?

I believe the VHP gets its money power from abroad. People who have gone abroad feel guilty. They have made money, but they miss their native place. They feel they have not done enough for their country. Abroad, this class has fallen prey to VHP propaganda. I have seen in London, Canada, and America that the VHP has more influence than it does in India. NRIs give money to the VHP with both hands. I earnestly request NRIs not to donate money to spread hatred in India, neither to the VHP nor to Islamic fundamentalists.

Feel for your country. This country needs your donations. But give it to set up an industry or colleges. Don't give it to people who propagate hatred.

I fail to read the minds behind violence. The way women were ill-treated and abused is difficult to understand. Maybe it was a reaction to Godhra; perhaps they thought that if they burnt our women and children, let us burn their children and women.

The second could be that we Indians have a historical streak of violence. The rioters didn't just attack; their suppressed feelings came out too. I also think the BJP's propaganda has taken hold of Gujarat. The NRI sense of guilt and their money has added to it. Rich Gujaratis wanted to help a religious Hindu party. They could see around 50 Muslim countries united and that we are the only Hindu country. People who are uprooted wanted to see a united India.

Another reason for the current situation is that there are too many sins of the Congress. The Congress experimented with KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) in Gujarat. Vast numbers of Gujaratis like Baniyas and Patels felt left out. They saw no chance to move ahead. The Congress philosophy of KHAM divided Gujarat and took Patels and Baniyas to the other extreme. They went to the Bharatiya Janata Party and accepted its political line.

The Congress pampered and appeased Muslims no end. The BJP took a stand against Muslims to sell their party. From Shah Bano to the shilanyas, there are many sins of the Congress. And the BJP took advantage of them. As a result, Gujarat is divided today.

Today the Muslims are hit. Tomorrow Jains and Christians may be targeted. The VHP might allege that rich Jains are the Jews of India! They may ask the Jains to call themselves Jain Hindus because they are converts. Today Jains are a major support to the VHP. Next we will be attacked by those who are trying to protect our asmita. This is sinister. It will bring down the country. I am sure that in Gujarat too, the reaction to this violence will come.

To call Chief Minister Narendra Modi Chhote Sardar is an insult to that great man [Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel]. The Sardar was misunderstood by the Leftists and others, but he was truly a great man.

As a Gujarati I am ashamed and feel humiliated. When I think of the riots I keep saying that my countrymen can't do this, my people can't do it. I hope slowly we realise that we did wrong. When I visited relief camps, I found people like you and me. Ordinary, decent people. They are just like us. I feel a majority of Hindus and Muslims are decent people. We are not like this. There are plenty of people who talk sense in Gujarat.

What worries me is another matter. Due to globalisation or whatever reason there are people who are well-settled and have become very materialistic. They did not maintain decency even when they went to loot stores in their cars. They value only one thing -- money. What is lower than that? The materialism of our people is as bad as communalism.

I G Patel, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India and former director of the London School of Economics, now lives in Baroda. He spoke to Sheela Bhatt.

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