Ahmedabad Diary – The Idea of the Hindu State

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Mall Rats in an Ahmedabad mall

The city’s Hindu youth have all but forgotten the 2002 anti-Muslim progroms.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The young tattoo artist in Ahmedabad’s Dev-Arc’s mall started laughing when told that many Indians outside Gujarat think of Mr Narendra Modi as a communal politician who looked the other way as over 1,200 Muslims were killed in 2002 riots. “Modi is a real mard. He has so much power in him that he can change the world in a single day,” said 19-year-old artist Mr Pancal Sureshbhai. After a pause, he added, “I don’t care about the riots and I don’t have Muslim friends.”

On SG Highway, the city hub boasting shining malls and glitzy temples, it is like being in a maja ma world. Here Mr Modi is a Hindu Hirday Samrat, the 2002 riots are forgotten, and the Muslims are invisible even though they comprise 11.2 per cent of the city’s population.

Statistics reveal that Gujarat has economically progressed since Mr Modi assumed power in 2001. But the young Gujaratis have slid deeper into communal mindsets.

“Modi has made Ahmedabad a mega city,” Mr Sureshbhai said while etching a red-coloured dragon on the arms of a customer, his first for the day. The slump effect has taken the life out of Ahmedabad malls. On a weekend afternoon, there was hardly a crowd. Not a soul at the astrologer’s stall, no one doing bungee jumping, no browsers at the free internet kiosk. “The slump has affected my business,” admitted Mr Sureshbhai, “but I have faith in Modi.”

This blind trust in Gujarat chief minister is shared by Mr Pallav Khalkas, 23, even though he recently lost his job due to the recession. He was a steward at a Mexican restaurant in the city’s Iscon Mega Mall but last month the place shut down for want of customers. “Economy has made a hell of my life but you don’t have to worry as long as Modi is around,” he said. Instead, Mr Khalkas is more bothered about how the outside world thinks of Mr Modi. “I feel bad when people demonize him,” he said. What about Mr Modi’s role in 2002 riots? “It happened because of the situation,” he explained: “Insaan bura nahi hota (a man is never bad).”

For Mr Haresh Kumar, 25, who sell ice-cream at a McDonald’s kiosk in Ahmedabad’s Law Bazaar, a popular hangout zone among the young, there is nothing bura (bad) about Modi. “I love Modi more than I love Amitabh Bachchan,” he swooned. “Because of this man there are more bridges, less traffic, less pollution and a more beautiful riverfront.”

Others hold a less charitable view of Gujarat chief minister. “People are fascinated by the makeup of Vibrant Gujarat which has become a byword for success, but only the majority community has gained from the progress in recent years,” said Ms Esther David, an eminent Ahmedabad-based author and artist. “The ghettoization is total in Ahmedabad, Hindus don’t care about the feelings for Muslims, and Modi has been very successful in creating, selling and nurturing the idea of a Hindu state.”

Mr Modi is given the credit for changing the look of Ahmedabad not just by his hardcore fans but also by outsiders who were once skeptical about the Gujarat chief minister. “My image of Modi before I came to study in Ahmedabad in 2006 was completely different,” said Delhi’s Ms Namrata Bhattacharya, 20, who is a third year student at the city’s prestigious National Institute of Design.

Taking time out in a Gujarati restaurant in Law Bazaar, she had just ordered a meal for herself. “However, when I started living here and saw the kind of upgradation that has taken place in this city, I was amazed,” she added. Ms Bhattacharya pointed there are now better public transport and safer environment for girls. What about Mr Modi’s record in riots? “It’s more important to get power supply and food than fretting on how the Gujarat government treats its Muslims,” Ms Bhattacharya said while fiddling around with her khichdi and karhi.

Not all admirers of Mr Modi are unconcerned at the riots that took place under his watch. “Muslims were killed by Hindus and that was horrible,” said Mr Anand Vasantlal Shah, 22, a textile trader, “but I’ll still vote for BJP for there’s no one who has the courage to challenge Modi.” Perhaps it is this macho image that has made Mr Modi so invincible among his fans.

“Earlier we Hindus always felt threatened by the Mian log (Muslims) but then Modi came and it was gratifying to hear a mainstream politician talking so openly against Muslims,” said Mr Manish Patel, 31. He owns a saree shop in a small town near Ahmedabad but comes each weekend to shop around in the city malls.

When pointed out that it is due to Muslim bashing that Mr Modi is controversial across India, Mr Patel retorted, “People opposed Mahatama Gandhi, too.”