Taking revenge in Gujarat
AHMEDABAD, India -- In normal times, a visitor to Ahmedabad would think it was one of the most modern and prosperous cities in India.
As the commercial capital of Gujarat state, it has doubled its manufacturing sector every seven years and achieved a ten percent gross domestic product growth.
Yet Ahmedabad has a history of vicious clashes between Hindus and Muslims.
In the latest bout of violence, sparked off in February this year, more than 900 people were killed in the worst sectarian riots seen in a decade.
This is the first time violence has erupted under a government of the right wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP.
And as the government admits, the size of the Hindu mobs who attacked Muslims in the early days of the latest clashes were unprecedented.
A senior member of the BJP said that for two days the party told its cadres "you can settle your account."
By that, he meant take revenge for the attack on a train by a Muslim mob, which sparked off the violence in Ahmedabad and elsewhere in the state.
Most of the press reported that the police did nothing to stop the violence in the early days.
In one of the camps where some of the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees fleeing from the clashes were living, refugees said time and time again that the police had taken part in the rioting.
Some refugees also alleged that BJP legislators had been involved too.
Police inaction and BJP encouragement might account for the size of the mobs but it doesn't explain their barbarity, particularly raping women and burning the victims.
Nobody had any explanation for that.
But although Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP Prime Minister, described the riots as a blot on India, the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could barely bring himself to express remorse.
The editor of one of the English Language papers described the atmosphere in the city as poisonous.
He said "anyone talking of peace is threatened, and lampooned."
Volunteers who were working for peace spoke of being harassed and intimidated. Hoardings calling for peace were pulled down or blackened.
The chief minister had been maintaining that the government had not failed in any way. One document justifying its performance even claimed the government had fulfilled its responsibilities "in a very nice manner."
But now the central government has obliged Modi to accept a senior retired police officer from Delhi as his security adviser.
Immediately after the adviser arrived, the police chief of Ahmedabad and some of his senior colleagues were replaced.
Modi then had a meeting with Muslim leaders and promised for the first time to take action on some of their grievances.
All that indicates that the prime minister and his BJP colleagues in the central government are concerned about the advantage the opposition has taken of the Gujarat violence, the bad press for the party, and the adverse international reaction.
At the same time some senior members of Modi's own government are now campaigning for his removal on the grounds he has damaged the party's prospects, and is now an electoral liability.
The immediate question is whether the security adviser and the government's more conciliatory attitude will bring peace to Ahmedabad.
Looking to the future, the first chance to assess voters' reaction to the violence will probably be in Gujarat itself, which the BJP regards as "a laboratory" for its experiments with Hindutva, or making India Hindu.
A new State assembly has to be elected by early next year.
If the election goes the BJP's way, the Hindu hardcore of the party will claim that Modi, by giving free rein to the anger of a section of the Hindu community, has conducted a successful experiment.
Before Gujarat the party leadership had claimed credit for the lack of communal violence in states it ruled.
If Modi now becomes a BJP hero, Muslims will be convinced the fears that they cannot have a place of honor in a state, or indeed an India ruled by that party, are justified.
Government about-face over Gujarat violence
May 2, 2002
Fears of new violence in Gujarat
May 2, 2002
Killing continues during Gujarat vote
April 30, 2002
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