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On this Winter Solstice, I am a Gujarati

By Rajeev Srinivasan
January 11, 2008 13:30 IST
The Gujarat election results were announced on a very appropriate day: the day after Winter Solstice, the beginning of the movement of the Sun towards the north. Uttarayanam is auspicious, a time of new beginnings; this is the time for which the aged Bhishma waited, in excruciating pain on the sara-sayya, bed of arrows. If we are lucky, we will be seeing a new beginning in the Indian political scenario as well.

John Kennedy said famously in the-Cold-War-era besieged Berlin after the Wall was built: Ich bin ein Berliner. He meant to say, "I am, metaphorically, one of you Berliners, and I stand by you". Today, the Gujarati feels besieged by an unrelenting barrage of negative propaganda that portrays them all, collectively and individually, as monsters. All decent people must stand by Gujaratis, because unprincipled rogues are attacking them willy-nilly.

This demonisation is a major reason why Gujaratis turned out in droves to elect Modi; the second reason is the UPA's obvious antipathy towards Hindus, which is coming back to haunt them.

The demonisation has reached epidemic proportions. For instance, when there were bomb blasts in trains in Mumbai in July 2006, a prominent media maven wrote in Newsweek magazine something that in effect said, 'the target of the bombs was rich Gujaratis, and so it's revenge for the Gujarat riots.' The matter-of-fact tone suggested that the author believed this was acceptable, poetic justice. Killing innocent Gujaratis is just fine and dandy, the man implied.

In fact, he was very wrong. Gujaratis are not bloodthirsty maniacs single-mindedly going out there to kill innocent Mohammedans for sport -- as in the fantasy version (created by the media) of the Godhra torching of the Sabarmati Express and the subsequent riots. The fact is that the Gujaratis, mild-mannered and apolitical, have been pushed to the wall by extreme violence against them. They were an enraged, blind mob in the aftermath of the Godhra carnage.

Let us remember what happened: A group of 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, mostly women and children, were burned alive in a railway coach when the train was stopped in a Mohammedan area. Commonsense suggests, given that a large crowd of Mohammedans had gathered at 7 am in an area that had seen widespread infiltration by extremists, that there was some malice aforethought and it is likely that the Mohammedans in fact set the train on fire. Nobody else had the motive or the means.

Torching 59 women and children, most sane people would concede, is extreme provocation. Consider what the Americans did when there was similar grave provocation against them, and 3,000 of them were killed on 9/11. I said then that they didn't riot because they knew the State would take revenge for them (unlike in India). The American military invaded Iraq, and have killed some 500,000 Mohammedans so far, in addition to destroying large parts of Iraq. This, in addition to the estimated 500,000 Iraqi children -- an entire generation -- killed because of punishing American embargos. The kill ratio: 500,000 to 3,000 -- seventeen to one.

And these Iraqis had practically nothing to do with 9/11, the perpetrators being mostly Saudi Arabian nationals (who, of course, are 'untouchable', given the Saudi understanding with the oilmen running America). The toll on lives and property has been horrific, see Iraq: The Hidden Human Cost from The New York Review of Books. The little girl with her skull neatly severed and her eyes open; the little girl in the blue dress with her lower torso blown off: who is paying the price for their murders?

Unlike violence-prone Americans, Gujaratis cannot generally be accused of random bloodshed. The image, largely true, that most of us have of Gujaratis is that they are a peaceful, quiet, vegetarian people with a strong sense of morals and ethics. They are traders par excellence, and as such keep a low profile.

Historically, Gujaratis have been more victimised than victimisers. The sad tale of the Somnath temple -- looted and sacked innumerable times by Mohammedan invaders, yet rebuilt painstakingly each time -- shows both the persistence and the pain. The Gujaratis, despite their prowess as traders, apparently did not have the weapons to secure their riches.

It may be noted in passing, however, that Gujarati Mohammedan traders took their religion to the rajahs of Indonesia, and thus caused the end of the Hindu-Buddhist civilisation that had thrived there for a millennium. Similarly, a Gujarati pilot showed the Portuguese pirate Vasco da Gama the path across the Arabian Sea following the monsoon winds: This led to the spree of European Christian imperialism.

The experience of Gujaratis in East Africa has also been instructive: They flourished as traders in much of the region, so much so that black dictators saw it fit to unceremoniously eject them and confiscate their property: Idi Amin Dada of Uganda was only the most vicious of the lot. Yet the Gujaratis picked themselves up, went to the UK or the US, and thrived through sheer hard work. Today Gujaratis dominate the hospitality industry, controlling some 60 per cent of all hotel rooms in the US.

According to Joel Kotkin, California sociologist and author of Tribes, Gujaratis form a cohesive group, one with a strong sense of community. He recounts the diamond-merchants now ensconced on 47th Street in New York, competing with and displacing Hassidic Jews in the business. He marvels that Gujaratis will entrust a million dollars worth of uncut diamonds to a fellow Gujarati on nothing more than a handshake. And invariably he will deliver it as expected. Their sense of honour and devotion to their tribe -- and surely the fear of excommunication -- ensures good behaviour.

It is this amour-propre of the Gujarati -- what they call Gujarati Asmita -- that the Communist-dominated and Christian-influenced English Language Media of India attacked relentlessly by positing that each and every Gujarati was a fascist, Nazi, communal, murderer. (Which is quite interesting considering that the ELM is the apologist for the true fascists, the killers of Nandigram. See my column, Communism as Fascism). Willing collaborators in the foreign media picked this up and broadcast it -- all the better to prepare the ground for a withering assault by conversion-happy, soul-harvesting Christian evangelists on Gujarat.

Anyone with a subaltern perspective, anyone who has supported the underdog, will have to empathise with the Gujarati: The might of the world media and the church as well as all of the power of the State apparatus has been ranged against them. They are strictly underdogs.

This last is a purely local phenomenon, one might argue: The vote was about injured Gujarati pride. Yes, that is true, and therefore it may not be replicable elsewhere. But lack of development is something anyone can appreciate: As was seen in the UPA's debacle in Himachal Pradesh. Besides, the fear of terrorism is also widespread: Witness Benazir Bhutto's assassination and the continued descent of Pakistan into chaos. Therefore, the other elements of the Modi campaign can easily be re-used. The UPA will be hard put to counter these; and the 'Big Mo' is with the BJP.

Thus the Gujarat elections have ensured 100 per cent that there will be no early national elections in 2008. The Communists will continue to run rampant, and thus the India-US nuclear deal will be sacrificed by the UPA in a desperate attempt to hang on to office. This is the right outcome for the wrong reason, but it's acceptable. All in all, not a bad situation even though the nation has to endure UPA misrule for another year.

Comments welcome at my blog at

Rajeev Srinivasan