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HindustanTimes Thu,31 Jul 2014

Narendra Modi and 2002: moving on from a terrible date

Ashok Malik   November 26, 2012
First Published: 07:22 IST(26/11/2012) | Last Updated: 22:43 IST(9/6/2013)

The 10-year period since the violence of 2002 has been the longest phase in contemporary Gujarati history that has not seen a major religious riot. Why has this happened? Have people suddenly become better, kinder and gentler? Is the Gujarati of 2012 a sweet, reasonable and non-violent person and were his father 20 years ago and brother 10 years ago remarkably different and ogre-like?

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Obviously that is not true. It is still the same society and still the same people, so what has changed? There have been a host of reasons, some external to Gujarat and representative of new urges and verities in India, others reflecting a transformation in the state's own politics and sources of political mobilisation. Narendra Modi's role in this has been under-recognised, largely because his critics and much of the national media don't want to admit there has been any sort of transformation at all.

In my view, Gujarat 2002 was probably the last large-scale riot of its kind in India. I realise that is a sweeping statement to make. When I put forward the argument in a piece for this newspaper on the 10th anniversary of the Godhra massacre, it got me extremely strong reactions, from both sides of the fence.

That idea came back to me when I read a newspaper report recently on the number of Muslim policemen in Gujarat. The reference here is to local recruits to the state police and not to Indian Police Service (IPS) officers who are selected nationally. Gujarat topped the list of states that got back to the Union home ministry with a numerical count of religious minorities in its police.

The state has a 9.1% Muslim population (2001 census) but 10.6% of its policemen are Muslim. In absolute numbers, this comes to 5,021 Muslim policemen of a total of 47,424 spread across 501 police stations. In contrast--and this is just a random example -- a quarter of West Bengal's people are Muslim but only 8.4% of its policemen are from the community.

I am not certain what the comparable figures were in 2001 -- when Modi became chief minister--and so cannot testify as to the extent of his responsibility. However, it is fairly clear he has not reversed the trend of increasing Muslim participation in policing jobs and has presumably only encouraged it.

Around the world public administration specialists and social scientists recommend more minorities in uniform as part of a post-violence recovery process, and in an attempt to institutionalise the absence of violence as a long-term norm. Increased participation of black police officers in the United States, of ethnic Indians in Australia (after the violence in Victoria a few years ago) or south Asian and Caribbean policemen in Britain are all examples of measures that have been suggested or implemented.

This is not to contend a community can only be protected by policemen of the same denomination and that all others are not to be trusted. It is just to emphasise that if increasing participation of minority communities in the police is possible--without resorting to quotas or diluting standards--then it would be a good idea because it would inevitably lead to a comfort level. Imagine how the Sikh community would have felt if there had been a special effort to recruit Sikhs as police officers in Delhi in 1985--or how Muslims would have felt if after the Meerut killings of 1987, the Uttar Pradesh government had built capacities of Muslim youth applying for jobs in the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC).

In 2002, Modi won a mandate in very disturbing and polarised circumstances. This mood was not sustainable and neither was it welcome. If Modi had decided to be a one-trick pony and continued to harp on Hindu identity issues for the next five years, he would almost certainly have been voted out in 2007. He recognised the limitations of such an approach. As such, he focused on economic growth and development and on sublimating a Hindu truculence into a more wholesome sense of Gujarati pride.

In his own way, he was creating conditions for a post-riot Gujarat. The spurt in Muslim entry into the police is possibly a part of that thought. This does not mean Muslim voters have fallen in love with Modi and will vote for him in hordes. This does not even mean all Hindu-Muslim issues in Gujarat have been sorted out and no social prejudice exists. It only means Gujarat is far less likely to have a riot today (or tomorrow) than ever earlier in free India. Like it or not, acknowledge it or not, that is also an element of Narendra Modi's legacy.

(The writer is a political analyst based in Delhi. He can be reached at malikashok@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal.)

The story was first published on 26th November, 2012.


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