AHMEDABAD, FEBRUARY 4—Gujarat, which is quite often known as the laboratory of Hindutva, is the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Ever since it came to power at the Centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has propagated the ‘Gujarat Model’ that it intends to implement across the nation. This political model of exclusivity which has hate at its core is now unraveling not only across the country as can be seen from the protests being organized in almost every district against the new citizenship moves but is also being challenged across Gujarat from where it has grown.

By the end of the last assembly polls in Gujarat and the recent Lok Sabha polls, the Hindutva machinery was sitting pretty smug under the belief that the process of complete marginalization of the Muslims had been achieved to a considerable extent. The community had been devoid of political inclusion as not only the BJP that excluded the community but even the Congress refrained from giving decent representation to the community in terms of tickets and organizational representatives. The process of ghettoisation of Muslims stood almost complete. And to cap it all, there was almost no resistance coming from the community.

But the spate of protests in the state that have followed the centre’s moves on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) clearly shows that the Muslim community that has been pushed to the corner has found its voice again. Community leaders in the form of social activists, lawyers and academics along with the secular groups are speaking out vociferously against the undemocratic moves of the government.

This has led to the government resorting to yet another crackdown. The authorities are so scared that no permission is being granted for any protest against CAA, NRC and NPR. The rampant imposition of Section 144 in Ahmedabad, giving permission only for pro CAA, NRC and NPR demonstrations and the Gujarat Police reportedly entering premises of a Gandhian institute like Gujarat Vidyapeeth speak a lot about the role of the state government.

The administration catering to the undemocratic will of its political masters is backed by the BJP foot soldiers upping the ante on hate propaganda. There has been a return of the call for economic boycott of Muslims and linking their interests with Pakistan. The Hindutva right wing over the last two decades has been aiming to break the economic backbone of the Muslim community.

“This was most evident after the unprecedented bandh against CAA, NRC and NPR when the Hindutva groups launched a campaign for the economic boycott of Muslims. The messages circulated on Whatsapp listed prominent Muslim enterprises, mainly the popular eating joints, flower shops and juice parlours and asked the Hindus not to patronize them as they were against persecuted Hindus in neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh,” disclosed a political observer based in Surat.

This circulation of hate messages was mainly visible in South Gujarat and Kutch which is a district bordering Pakistan. “Kutch being the nerve centre of hate is something new and very worrying because this district did not fall prey to communal violence even during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. The Gujarat Model of hate grew mainly in central and North Gujarat and is now being spread across India. Kutch is definitely a new entry,” said an observer in Ahmedabad.

Prior to this, the BJP foot soldiers went to the extreme of using small school going children as a political tool. These functionaries got the authorities of both the municipal and private run schools to ask the children to write post cards favouring the government moves on CAA, NRC and NPR addressed to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). These cards were being written in a fixed format. The education department officials reportedly denied their role but sources revealed that this was the fallout of oral instructions being passed down by local level BJP functionaries.

While the government and the Hindutva elements have been reacting to the developments on expected lines, it is interesting to see how the Muslims and secular groups have been reacting to the onslaught.

To begin with dissent is being expressed at every available opportunity. Five people, including an Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) professor have challenged the city Police Commissioner’s orders in Gujarat High Court for continued imposition of Section 144 of CrPC and Section 37 of the Bombay Police Act. They have contested that the continuous imposition of these sections makes Ahmedabad an indefinite war camp which is like being under permanent danger. 

 An interesting observation came from social activist Rohit Prajapati who said the Hindutva brigade cannot afford to let the ‘Gujarat Model’ crumble. “If it was just Muslims they could have managed easily but when they saw Hindus from all the castes standing up, they got scared”, said Prajapati.

 The protestors effectively used the festival of Uttarayan to counter the government moves when they got kites printed with anti-CAA, NRC and NPR slogans and flew them across the skies. “It was to send across the message that you cannot impose Section 144 in the skies that we got 35,000 kites printed with slogans of dissent and distributed them,” said Shamshad Pathan of Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch.

 Shamshad and his associates are now using ‘mohalla’ meetings as a very effective tool to spread awareness about CAA, NRC and NPR. One of his associates Illyas Mansuri of Mehsana disclosed, “These meetings are also seeing a Dalit turnout in big numbers. This has led to the Hindutva groups changing their narrative and saying that CAA basically aims at providing relief to persecuted Dalits from neigbouring countries”.

 Pointing to the strategy to counter the hate messages being spread against Muslims on the social media while calling for their economic boycott, Mujahid Nafees of Minority Co-ordination Committee (Gujarat) said, “We have decided to let the non- Muslim secular friends to lead a counter move to this agitation.”

 He further disclosed that his organization had year approached the state Governor to check the distribution of tridents by Hindutva groups last year. He also pointed to a sudden rise in organizing of ‘Ram Kathas’ and other religious programmes in remote villages of Kutch where hate narrative is mixed with religious discourse.

(Rajeev Khanna is a former BBC Correspondent)

This story first appeared on www.indiatomorrow.net on Feb 4, 2020, more