Skip to main content

Gujarat's 'low-key' communalism: right-wing groups compete for anti-Muslim space

By Rajiv Shah 

Noticing the emergence of a novel trend, a just-released report based on a fact-finding team's observations following its interaction in particular with Hindu and Muslim political activists, administrators and police officials, has claimed that a major reason why chasm between the two communities in Gujarat has lately reached new heights is, a veritable competition between Hindu right-wing groups and leaders to capture the existing communal space.
Titled "Hindu Right, Communal Riots and Demolitions: Emerging Pattern of Communal Riots in India", the report has been prepared against the backdrop of what it calls "low intensity" communalism which has characterised rioting in Gujarat in the recent past, especially after the 2002 communal carnage, one of the worst in Independent India.
Especially focusing on riots in two Gujarat towns, Himmatnagar and Khambhat, which took place on April 10, the day clashes broke also out in different parts of India on the occasion of Ram Navmi, the report points to how Ram Sena, Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) competed with each other to take out Shobha Yatra.
Suggesting that the pattern was not very different from West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, where similar processions were taken out, the report says, in Himmatnagar, a North Gujarat town, the "rivalry” between the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad, founded by Pravin Togadia after he broke away from the VHP, and the VHP was instrumental in having more tensions after a second procession was taken out following the first one causing violence.
Prepared after on-the-spot interactions of a team led by Neha Dabhade of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism and Hozefa Ujjaini of Buniyaad, Gujarat-based non-profits, the report observes, the second procession in Himmatnagar was “forcefully implemented”. In fact, one found that “there was a very visible sense of competition between Hindu right-wing groups for domination, visibility and reach out".
In their effort to gain support, the report finds the right-wing groups’ outlook towards Muslims "more radical and hardliner than the RSS." It insists, "It is important to understand the nuances in their ideology and objectives", wondering whether the RSS has complete control over these outfits, as they seemed to have been "allowed to some extent to act independently."
The report notes, "These outfits have been able to reach out and politically mobilize a cross section of society. Their strategies include popularizing the symbols of Ram and Hanuman, invoking pride through these symbols and promoting aggressive nationalism."
Especially referring to the Ram Sena, which played a major role during the riots in Khambhat, it says, the group used the "symbols and icons from the Adivasi or Dalit communities to reach out to them", even as ignoring caste hierarchy or Adivasi rights. The group just wants to reach out to the Adivasis to bring them under "one umbrella" in order to forge "one grand ‘Hindu’ identity."
Admitting that these groups were successful in their "competitive" strategy, the report says, "It is worth noting that the Hindu right is able to mobilize cross sections of society, especially Dalits and Vanjaras, who are a de-notified tribe. With different outreach strategies, the Hindu right is successful to mobilizing them and ensuring their participation in communal violence."
It notes, "Though the leadership of these organizations remains largely with upper castes, OBCs and Dalits are used as foot soldiers to perpetrate violence. This is significantly taking the focus away from caste-based discrimination and the rights of the Adivasis, given to them as protection in the Constitution."
Stating how political infighting and network of patronage further contributed to the communal clashes in Khambhat, the report reveals, political equations and rivalry between current MLA Mayur Raval and ex-MLA Sanjay Patel fuelled the tension in the Central Gujarat town and the nearby rural areas.
Suggesting that there was "a concerted effort to make Mayur Raval seem ineffective in controlling riots", the report says, communal tensions appeared to have been "used” as a medium at all levels -- grassroots like panchayat to state -- to “settle political scores".
Thus, "Mayur Raval, who is currently MLA from Khambhat, is perceived as cordial towards Muslims and as more neutral than Sanjay Patel, his predecessor. Raval doesn’t openly take sides or instigate hatred or violence against Muslims. Sanjay Patel is known for his more hardliner stand against the Muslims."
Though the leadership remains largely with upper castes, OBCs and Dalits are used as foot soldiers to perpetrate violence
In fact, "There is an apparent political rivalry between Sanjay Patel and Mayur Raval. Mayur Raval was offered the BJP candidature for MLA in 2017 instead of Sanjay Patel. It appears that Sanjay Patel is influential, and through his network of political patronage, emboldens Hindu right-wing organizations to act against Muslims and foment violence."
Sanjay Patel believes that the region requires a “strong” leader like him to "control" communal violence, the report says, adding, there was a clear effort to construct a narrative in Khambhat that a “weak” MLA being “soft” on Muslims is "ineffective in controlling riots and Muslim fundamentalism in Khambhat." Thus, there is a deliberate attempt through these riots to send this message to the Hindu electorate."
All this happened amidst what the report calls "low scale sub radar communal riots" in Gujarat after the large-scale outrage which shook India in 2002. Noting that since "the low intensity of violence" did not have "an eye-catching number of casualties", it regrets, these riots have gone almost gone "unnoticed" in the "national media".
However, it underlines, what is forgotten in the process is, "These sub radar riots have kept communal tensions simmering and silently but certainly created an anti-Muslim atmosphere marked by distrust and resentment towards the Muslims."
In Khambhat, the team mainly met additional commissioner of police Abhishek Gupta, sarpanch of Shakarpur (Khambhat taluka) Dinesh Balun, Muslim residents whose stalls were demolished, and Ram Sena leader Jayveer Joshi.
In Himmatnagar, it met, among others, residents of Ashrafnagar, Hasannagar, members of denotified tribe Vanjara and OBC Devipujak community, and Kanak Jhala, leader of the Antar Rashtriya Hindu Parishad. It also interacted with journalists and other prominent citizens.
During the “low intensity riots” in Himmatnagar, the report says, the Ram Navmi procession provocatively used slogans 'Hindustan mein rehana hoga toh Jai Shri Ram kehana hoga' when it reached the mosque, resulting in scuffle and pelting of stones, burning of 18 stalls, a dargah and two houses belonging to Muslims, and severe injury to a Muslim boy.
The violence, the report indicates, helped widen the divide between Muslims and Vanjaras, both of whom have been living in allotted houses to low-income groups under a 2011 housing scheme. Earlier living in a segregated locality, Vanjaras would have scuffles with Muslims, which were of non-communal nature. But during Ram Navmi the scuffles were sought to be given a communal colour.
"Some Muslims were arrested by the police and taken away. They were dropped back in the evening. Later, petrol bombs were thrown on the Vanjara households at around 10pm. The police was called again. It lobbed teargas on Muslim residents, “brutally beat up” Muslim women, arrested Muslim residents, including a doctor, detaining them for four days.
In Khambhat, similarly, the at Ram Sena-led Ram Navmi procession provocative slogans like “Topi valo ko bulvayenge, Dadi walo ko bulvayenge Jai shri ram jai shri ram” were prominent, followed by exchange of words and stone pelting, attack of destruction of Muslim properties by participants carrying ‘dangs’ -- thick wooden rods with saffron flags tied to them.
While the riots in both the towns saw tens of individuals, including cops, injured, only one person -- 57-year-old Kanhaiya Lal Rana -- lost his life in Khambhat, which escalated rioting.



'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Is coal import dependence of more than 50% by 2047 of any relevance to India?

By Shankar Sharma*  I have read the article " Building Resilience in India’s Power Sector " by N Vedachalam, released by the Observer Research Foundation, with a lot of interest. I expected it to provide few useful recommendations to our authorities in charting out a sustainable pathway to green energy transition much before the climate catastrophe push our communities to the precipice. But I am sorry to say that the overall discussions or the message implied in the article disappointed me. I was expecting the article, coming from an engineer with past experience in the power sector, to discuss the much needed recommendations to put the power sector on a sustainable developmental pathway. But I could notice mostly technical jargon and a lot of statistical information, which may already be available in the public domain.   The article also seems to have simply accepted what some of the official agencies seem to have indicated as inevitable for the power sector in our country;

Older than Delhi, no other school may have witnessed so many vicissitudes as this one

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*  Behind every book there is a writer or writers. Are the books written for the personal gratification of authors? Is the purpose utilitarian, educational or to gain public ovation? There are writers who publish books because they are inspired by a purely disinterested and fair-minded pursuit of knowledge and to clarify the issues that agitate them and society. The book under discussion   is a masterstroke on the life and times of not only an institution at Ajmeri Gate, Delhi — Anglo Arabic School — but about the complex relationship between the school and the cajoled Muslim community. Just while you are at Ajmeri Gate, supposedly, the border of Old and New Delhi, barely a few meters from the cacophony and the chaos outside the New Delhi railway station, lies an island of serenity — a school much older than New Delhi, with a wholesale machine tools market on its West, a road leading to Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) on the East and colourful confusion of rickshaws,

Government 'fails to take up' Indian migrants' unpaid wages issue with other countries

By Rafeek Ravuther, Chandan Kumar, Dharmendra Kumar*  The migrant workers were one of the most vulnerable sections during the pandemic. India experiences large-scale movement of migrants internally and internationally. After the outbreak of the pandemic, migrant workers continued to face injustice especially in getting wages in expedited manner. In the international context, India, the home of 9 million cross-border temporary labour migrants, carried out the largest repatriation exercise ‘Vande Bharat Mission’. Even though the Indian government addressed the immediate requirement of repatriation, it failed to understand and recognise their post-arrival grievances, like back wages, social protection etc. Recently many workers were deported from the middle- east region. Amidst the establishment of grievance mechanisms such as Consular Services Management System (MADAD) and helplines in Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK), the unresolved grievances remain high. The number of unresolv