Beyond the Gujarat Model, Gujaratis are Experiencing a Guilt Model

Beneath the veneer of vikas, people in Gujarat bemoan the lack of jobs and false promises made by leaders.

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Beneath the veneer of vikas, people in Gujarat bemoan the lack of jobs and false promises made by leaders.
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After the cataclysmic events 15 years ago, in which time Gujarat lived through its moment of silence, its vow of silence and its conspiracy of silence, Gujaratis today are trying to break free of it, which fits into Pico Iyer’s description of the “anagram of licence,” albeit in an entirely different context.

Guilt Model Reflected in Conversation

Gujarat is certainly not Bihar or Uttar Pradesh or West Bengal where elections are as loud and colourful as socio-religious festivities. In these states, electoral campaigns and people’s participation are clangorous, cacophonic affairs – as much for the political parties and contestants as for the electorate.

I recall that the last time I arrived in Ahmedabad on a late-night flight on 1 March 2002, the city – and the state at large – was in the grip of a deathly silence after the first rounds of deadly convulsions. Readily handed down Mao Zedong’s religion opiate, the people overdosed on hate.

This time, Ahmedabad and the districts that I traversed were certainly noisier: in small, private gatherings people cast aside their reticence, or even suspicions, let their hair down and spoke freely. They drank freely, and with each sip of their preferred whiskey, they even implicated themselves in the conspiracy. Like the Gujarat model there is today a guilt model.

Also Read: Gujarat Liquor Ban: A Curse, a Boon and a Sham

Beyond Shiny Buildings and Industrial Complexes

And that guilt cuts across every stratum of Gujarati society and it springs from not only the silence of their incriminating involvement in baying for the life and banishment of the ‘other’ but also from their unquestioning faith they reposed on their leaders who promised them milk and honey but really gave them buttermilk and beeswax.

A rudimentary health centre in Bavla taluka in Ahmedabad district.
A rudimentary health centre in Bavla taluka in Ahmedabad district.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)
However, this is not to say that Gujarat has not hit the highway of development. Yes, the highways are smooth. And yes, Ahmedabad, Surat, Baroda and Rajkot have shiny buildings and shinier industrial complexes. But behind the slick facade is the ‘other’ Gujarat.

Many Gujaratis have now begun to scratch the surface to watch in horror the mirror that they have now held up before themselves. Some, such as a senior police officer I met one evening over dinner, said that “many recoil at seeing that image”.

Western Railway Traction Substation 132/25 kV in Gandhinagar.
Western Railway Traction Substation 132/25 kV in Gandhinagar.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Joblessness a Cause of Recent Stirrings

Breaking his silence after slipping into a T-shirt as he emerged from the dark environs of his single-storeyed house in Gambhirpura in part-arid Sabarkantha, 32-year-old Jignesh Desai said that while he is an MA in Psychology, and has done better than his father who was a Gujarat Road Transport Corporation bus driver before retiring in 2015, the “degree is a useless piece of paper today in Gujarat”.

Jignesh Desai (extreme right) with his family in Gambhirpura.
Jignesh Desai (extreme right) with his family in Gambhirpura.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Jignesh is jobless. So is his younger sister Jayashree who holds two degrees – a Master’s in Gujarati and a B.Ed. “No work gets done. Sab deengey haankte hain (All engage in making tall claims),” Jignesh, frustration and anger writ large on his face, tells me. Jignesh’s father Bhanubhai Desai nods in agreement, making it rather obvious that silence this time around will be a folly when Sabarkantha goes to the polls on 14 December.

Also Read: In Gujarat’s Gambhirpura, Desolation a Grim Outcome of Joblessness

Farming Becoming a Difficult Proposition

The landscape between Ahmedabad to Himmatnagar is dotted with medium-scale industries, a sight not very different on one of my car rides between the state capital and Rajkot.

Landscape between Ahmedabad to Sabarkantha changes from factories to armies of large-horned cows.
Landscape between Ahmedabad to Sabarkantha changes from factories to armies of large-horned cows.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)
But as you cross over into Sabarkantha the factories are replaced by the ubiquitous sight of armies of large-horned cows being driven to the fields to plough the dark soil where cotton is king.

And yet, there are large swathes of land that are semi-arid and rocky, such as the western half of Idar taluka, making farming a difficult proposition. However, this does not hold true for the industrious Patidars who are split between old loyalties and new heroes in Gujarat’s milk belts where much is at stake.

Across the rugged, acacia-scattered landscape of north and central Gujarat the silence of the past has come under severe challenge from Hardik Patel, the state’s irrepressible boy-wonder whose mature voice came tantalisingly close to admitting that he has come of age to have women companions, who has shown an uncanny sense of politics. It has left him with a sizeable number of admirers – across towns and villages – but his politics of amanat (reservation) has also left the powerful Patidar community divided.

Also Read: Mehsana to Dahod: Patidars Stir Their Milk & Politics Differently

‘We’ Mob Continues to Bear the Brunt

Sabarkantha, where the ‘we’ mob sought out to destroy the ‘other’ group in the fury of 2002, and then as quietly buried its past, is now humming the self-incriminating tune. It took my local interlocutor – a banana-seller who I befriended on the outskirts of Idar – a warm meal comprising the not-so-unusual vegetarian fare, to share his darkest thought: two of his brothers remain incarcerated in jail for being part of the mob that unleashed itself upon the ‘other’ and drove them out of Anand, his original hometown. “The netas did nothing to pull them out to freedom,” he said, nursing his lame right leg. He was no less candid about the availability of cheap, country-made alcohol.

Gujarat has been projected to be on an “accelerating roller-coaster ride” which the town-dwellers thought they were onto. But now they are not quite as sure about the high-octane clamour over “vikas, vikas, vikas” as another life across the industrial divide comes into sharp relief.

Smokescreen of Development

My visit to Sankod and Vasna villages, 45 kms west of Ahmedabad on the busy Rajkot highway, was an eyeopener for more reasons than one. Illiteracy, lack of toilets and absence of healthcare defines the lives of people in Sankod even as the smokescreen of development hangs over the state.

Villages like Sankod have elaborately-built temples instead of usable toilets.
Villages like Sankod have elaborately-built temples instead of usable toilets.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

Suddenly, this time around, the people of Sankod are questioning why they are not beneficiaries of the government’s mammoth toilet-making programme. The men consume cheap country liquor, the women toil away on the fields where some have adopted the SRI – System of Rice Intensification – method to increase productivity, with little or no assistance from the government.

Also Read: Rupani’s Nervousness Pronounced, Though Audio Clip Unauthenticated

Grudging Admission of Vikas Gone ‘Skewed’

Nearly everybody I know in Ahmedabad and other towns of Gujarat is now trying to step back to clear their head, creating the space to think and asking questions. Many Gujaratis are suddenly not being taken in by the temptations to prosperity that helped a party hold them hostage to just one narrative.

That narrative is being challenged – albeit in a limited extent – by a different idiom which the Gujaratis are lending their ears to. Everywhere there are complaints and grudging admission of “vikas” gone skewed, which the challengers are seeking to capitalise. How well and effectively they do so will depend on how gritty and sustained their campaign remains on the ground.

Across some districts, people say of the challenger that if he must cause a dent in the ruling establishment’s fortress, he must “stay put in Ahmedabad” and “be visible and vocal”. One friend who is faculty at MICA (formerly Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad) only hopes that the worst thing that the challenger could do at this time is to “take an electoral sabbath”.

(Voices of Gujarat: Tired of listening to netas make promises? As Gujarat goes to polls, The Quint wants to listen to the real voices of Gujarat – the voters. Tell us what issues matter to you this election season. Send in your videos to elections@thequint.com or WhatsApp @ +919999008335)

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