Updated: December 16, 2017 7:53:28 am
In electoral as in sporting contests, onlookers are often as involved as participants, which is certainly true for the current match in Gujarat. Across India and wherever else Indians reside, many are rooting, openly or privately, for the Rahul Gandhi-led team, and hoping that the state’s Narendra Modi eleven gets a long-enough rest. Others no doubt want Rahul and his allies to be knocked away over the stands.
A deep disquiet about the individual Indian’s freedom and security has produced a prayer for change in Gujarat. History, however, teaches patience. In Gujarat and elsewhere, a marketing push on behalf of “the majority” has often succeeded, especially when aided by muscle and lubricated by money.
In the likely event of defeat, or the unlikely event of victory, the Rahul-led team will deserve the nation’s thanks. For one thing, as a result of its energetic campaign, free speech seems less abnormal than earlier. Modi and Amit Shah may still loom larger than life in the imagination of some, but the image size has shrunk a little.
Second, thanks to the Gujarat campaign, conversation and attention have switched to some interesting OTMs, that is persons other than Modi. Persons, for example, like 34-year-old Jignesh Mevani of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, who was born in north Gujarat. And 24-year-old Hardik Patel of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, born not far from the strategically significant town of Viramgam, where “Gujarat proper” and Saurashtra merge. And 40-year-old Alpesh Thakor of the Kshatriya Thakor Sena and the OBC Ekta Manch. Not to mention the part-Gujarati Rahul Gandhi, the 47-year-old grandson of a Mumbai-born Parsi called Feroze Gandhi (1912-60) who married Nehru’s daughter and stood out in the Lok Sabha for asking tough questions.
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The Jignesh-Hardik-Alpesh (JHA) trio have previously clashed with one another. Their understanding with Rahul and the Congress is fresh. Win or lose, their biggest test will be over their mutual partnership after December 18. This will also be a major challenge for Rahul, who has revealed himself as a fighter of spirit and stamina. If we go by the history of fronts against perceived threats to democratic life, smooth sailing cannot be assumed. Yet we can nurse hopes. Those who can should assist the trio with what the Japanese call kyosei, or the difficult skill of living and working together for the common good. Together, the JHA trio signify three crucially important constituencies, but one face is missing. Gujarat’s Muslims are not represented.
I say this not out of concern for the so-called Muslim vote. Thanks to the blatantly communal and calculatedly polarising rhetoric of Yogi Adityanath, and the less direct but unmistakable campaign rhetoric of Prime Minister Modi, most Muslims in Gujarat will vote anyway against the BJP.
A young Muslim on the face of New Gujarat, along with JHA, would help because symbols of inclusiveness can chip away at Gujarat’s walls of polarisation. If I want these walls to fall across India, it is not because I dislike people in the BJP. I want these walls to go away because I cannot agree that a Muslim fellow-Indian is less than me, or less than a Hindu fellow-Indian.
There is another reason. I want Hindus in Pakistan (there are more than 3.5 million of them), in Bangladesh (over 12 million) and elsewhere in the world to live in safety and dignity. And because I have similar concerns for Ahmadis and Shias in Pakistan, agnostics in Bangladesh, and Dalits in India.
Call me a dreamer, but I am hoping that after the elections, win or lose, Hardik, Jignesh and Alpesh will enlist an able Muslim partner to their side. I am hoping that such a foursome will together speak out against all forms of oppression — by anyone, against anyone — and show a kyosei to hearten not just India but all of South Asia. And I am hoping that one early day Gujarat’s young women will leave JHA behind in the race for a new Gujarat.
Let me tell Hardik, Jignesh and Alpesh, if they come across these lines, of a Gujarati called Abbas Tyabji. Fifteen years older than Gandhi and educated in England, Abbas became a judge in Vadodara of “absolute integrity and fairness” and pro-British views. In 1917, however, he and Gandhi spoke together at Godhra, the very place where, 85 years later, the tragedy of 2002 Gujarat would begin. Articulated at that 1917 event were offences of British imperialism and Indian untouchability. Their partnership continuing, Tyabji and Gandhi travelled across Punjab in 1919, interviewing Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims and recording details of imperial oppression connected to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
In 1928, Abbas joined the Sardar Patel-led Bardoli satyagraha of Gujarati farmers. In 1930, the year of the Salt March, once Gandhi was arrested and Patel too was in prison, a 76-year-old Tyabji led the satyagrahis. In May of that year, Tyabji with his flowing white beard marched alongside Kasturba Gandhi at the head of a satyagrahi column to seize salt in Dharasana. Jignesh, Hardik and Alpesh should know that until his death in 1936, Abbas Tyabji joined Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel and others to form Gujarat’s face.
Gallant teamwork and gallant times will return again. When is the only question.
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