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Gujarat has no time for riot activism

Gujarat has no time for riot activism

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 28, 2007

Film appreciation being a matter of personal taste, the rah-rah over the release of NRI film-maker Rahul Dholakia's Parzania should be greeted with some caution. Any film which proceeds on the loose assumption that the post-Godhra communal explosion in Gujarat was a pre-meditated carnage by Hindus is bound to be trumpeted by the powerful Left-liberal establishment. I don't know if Parzania fits the bill but I do hope that at least a handful of theatre-owners in Gujarat decide the film is worth screening.

Such a decision will involve a commercial risk since normal Gujaratis will be loath to see themselves as bloodthirsty butchers - even if they genuinely feel for the unfortunate Parsi family which was a victim of the prevailing madness. Yet, the presence of Parzania in the cinemas of Gujarat will put an abrupt end to the self-serving myth that Chief Minister Narendra Modi has transformed the state into an intolerant fascist paradise. Modi has already made it clear that there is absolutely no restriction on Parzania, just as there was no restriction on Fanaa, but, naturally, it is not up to him to stitch commercial deals with cinema owners.

Since the decisive Gujarat Assembly election of 2002 it has become something of a fashion for celebrities to court publicity by trashing either Modi or Gujarat. Sometimes the route to secularist heroism leads from the Narmada dam but, more often than not, there is the mandatory bad-mouthing of Modi for allegedly organising a "pogrom". Some metropolitan busybodies have made a career peddling Muslim victimhood and the Government has put its stamp of approval by honouring Teesta Setalvad with a Padma award.

The coming days will probably witness a campaign to exempt Parzania from entertainment tax. With the Gujarat polls due in December this year, secularist crusaders will do their utmost to rekindle memories of 2002 and fuel Muslim disquiet.

Although it is unfair to link the makers of Parzania to this campaign, there is a detectable desperation driving this unending riot activism. Had Gujarat witnessed the normal process anti-incumbency, it is more than likely that the Congress in Gujarat would have taken the lead in organising the anti-Modi campaign. However, two developments have made a surrogate campaign imperative.

First, Gujarat is witnessing an unprecedented economic boom. The State's 10 per cent annual growth rate, including a spectacular growth in agricultural income, has galvanised the entrepreneurial energies of Gujaratis. The staggering Rs 4.49 lakh crore new investments promised in the vibrant Gujarat conference earlier this month was symptomatic of market confidence in a State which has perfected the business of encouraging business. What distinguishes Gujarat is that the State is not witnessing the urban-rural tensions which have put a big question mark over the Special Economic Zones in many parts of India. The Gujarat model is working and is being quietly appreciated.

Second, the political returns from running a dynamic administration are accruing to the Chief Minister. The past five years have witnessed umpteen attempts, both by BJP dissidents and the Congress, to destabilise Modi. His imperious, no-nonsense style of functioning has drawn flak from the political class and a dodgy local media. But, far from being weakened, Modi has demonstrated time and time again his ability to connect with ordinary voters. The inspirational quality of his leadership has made Modi the poster boy of both Gujarat and the entire rank-and-file of the BJP. This is creating jitters in the political class.

The forward march of Gujarat and Modi is not based on what happened after Godhra five years ago. Indeed, the communal question does not feature on the Gujarat agenda although it is present elsewhere in India. Even Modi's reputation as a Hindu strongman now rests on his success in running India's most successful Government. Even the ill-considered US diplomatic boycott of Modi is crumbling: Last November, he was in China and Singapore and in April he will visit Japan.

Parzania looks back in history. In Gujarat, however, they are looking to the future.

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