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Caste and regional divide "replacing" Gujarat's communal cleavage begun in 2002

Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah
By RK Misra*
Pebble-stirred ripples both caution and crush. In either case they leave a lasting impact. Three news items that appeared in the recent past bear eloquent testimony to it.The first, pertains to the account of Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah (retd) who had been dispatched at the head of a 3,000 strong army contingent to control the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. 
His memoirs only confirm, what is internally well known, that the response of the state administration was ’tardy’ and that the army was delayed transport for over a day despite a request to the then chief minister, Narendra Modi.
The former vice-chief of the army staff said that the sequence of events has been recorded in the ‘war diaries‘ of the army. General S Padmanabhan, the then chief of Army Staff had backed the assertions of Shah. Thus it is that crucial time was lost in the statewide deployment of the army while the cops gave a free hand to the rioting mobs targeting the minorities in cities and towns engulfed by violence.
This revelation now assumes added importance in the light of the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team(SIT) report that had cleared Modi’s name saying that there was no delay in ‘requisition and deployment of the army’, based on the testimony of Ashok Narayan, additional chief secretary (home). ”Let me say again, it is a blatant lie. When the time comes, the war diaries will be provided. What I have said is the gospel truth”, said the retired General. It is merely incidental that this highly acclaimed officer of the Indian Army happens to be the brother of filmstar Naseeruddin Shah.
For many of us field reporters who covered this distressing chapter in Gujarat’s history up close, these are well known facts; also the white wash that followed and the communal cleaving through Modi’s ‘gaurav yatra’. Pitting the majority versus the minority reaped instant electoral results and Modi won the State assembly polls held immediately thereafter with a steamroller majority.
However, the slow and insidious impact of this poison is now being felt far and wide. On October 12, in far off Atlanta in the USA, a Gujarati and his friends were thrown out of a garba celebration because his name was not found ‘Hindu’ enough. It did not matter to the organisers, Shree Shakti Mandir, that Vadodara astro-physicist Dr Karan Jani had won India acclaim when he made it to the LIGO team in the US which discovered the gravitational waves in 2016.
Jani had gone with his three friends, including two women, and were ‘thrown out’ because their surnames did not seem to be Hindu enough. A humiliated Dr Jani put the shameful proceedings on Twitter.
A Patidar agitation in Gujarat
Nearer home in Ahmedabad one got to see another strain of the proliferating virus at another hindu religious gathering. Non-vegetarian food forms an intrinsic part of Bengali food culture, including those of Brahmins. References to some of these practices can be found in the sanskrit text of the ‘Kalika Purana’. Durga Puja is a religious festival which has been organized by the Bengal Cultural Association in Ahmedabad since the last 80 years.
The food fest which also has a non-vegetarian component is an intrinsic part of these celebrations. This time, the Ahmedabad Education Society, owners of the land where the Durga Puja celebrations are held, issued a last minute directive against cooking or serving non-vegetarian food leaving the organisers of this religious congregation no time to shift venue.
From other religions to their own, and within it from targeting cultural to social mores and now faith itself, the dictating of percepts and practices is acquiring ingenious forms.
As things stand in Gujarat today , the majority Hindu society is more fractured than ever before. The Patidars are up in arms seeking reservations, violence against Dalits has seen a 50 per cent spurt over previous years and the OBCs are in ferment with infighting breaking out amongst sub-communities.
Six people were killed and one injured in violent sparring on October 23, between Ahirs and Kumbhars -- both OBC communities in Chassra village of Mundra taluka of Kutch district of Gujarat which borders Pakistan.
What began with rising religiosity witnessed through the sharply growing number of people walking down to key temples like Ambaji , Pavagadh and Chotila in north and central Gujarat as well as Saurashtra respectively, has now grown to flaunting caste identity through stickers on their respective vehicles and business establishments (Jai Patidar, Jai Parushram, Jai Mataji [kshatriya] etc).
The 'Pagpada Sanghs’, which is a loose association of neighbourhoods that encourage ritualistic walking to religious places during specified periods of the hindu calendar, were a creation of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad but it has gradually petered down to caste groupings, frequently at loggerheads with each other. Thus, those who set out to unite Hindus for electoral gains have only gone to bitterly divide the very same components of the Hindu caste matrix.
The latest fall-out of this fragmentation which began a new chapter altogether ,was when the rape of a 14 month old girl belonging to an OBC family in Sabarkantha district of north Gujarat, allegedly by a youth of Bihari origin, triggered off violence against migrants from hindi speaking states leading to their large scale exodus. The caste you belonged to did not matter, the region you came from did, when choosing targets to attack.
It was a ‘controlled‘ political experiment with an eye on the impending elections in the neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where Congress was seen as ascendant, but careened dangerously out of control forcing the ruling BJP to go into damage control even as the lob and volley blame game continued between the two principal political opponents.
Thus it is that what began as communal cleaving has over the years come to acquire divisive, casteist permutations and destructive, parochial combinations.
When you roll a boulder downhill, it develops a mind and momentum of its own, crushing all in its path before fragmenting itself. Those who use cleavers and crushers could do well to remember this hard fact!
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*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. Blog: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.com/

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