After reading Narendrabhai’s letter to the citizens of his state, via his blog, I want to say: such expression is rare in a CEO of any state.
It was 2004, not long after the riots. I remember alighting in the Ahmedabad station at 4:30 am, waiting for my usual defense mechanism to come up. It didn’t. For the first time in my entire life, in which I’d by then lived in four cities as an adult, and that includes London, here was a city where I didn’t feel the instinctual fear of being attacked because I was a woman.
Gujaratis are usually warm, nice, well-meaning people, who look out for each other, and show far more respect to women in day-to-day life than I have seen in any other part of this country.
So how did an entire state, in the capital city of which I’ve walked alone after midnight without any fear, become so full of hate one fine day?
Maybe it was a temporary, collective loss. The loss of sadh-bhavana. This was in its karma.
When the prime CM and prime prime-ministerial candidate calls for a Sadhbhavana Mission, I wonder what he’d want to say to the RSS chap I once met in 2009, who in a bid to befriend me, suggested that I think of the riots of 2002 as a “natural calamity, just like the tsunami.” I definitely felt the tsunami, sitting in front of him. I lost all words.
Then I remember my first house-help in Ahmedabad, a Hindu woman who had lost everything when her Muslim neighbors burned down her house in the pol. Neighbors with children that hers grew up with. She never thought of it as a “natural calamity”. She would eye everything in the house, hoping we would be generous, so she could put her life back together. Her peace was now dependent on my charity.
She just didn’t understand that night. “We drank tea together every evening for years,” she cried once, hoping I could explain. My wisdom only allowed me to say, you know how people are…
How are they? They change. One fine day, you and I can become butchers. Isn’t that what happened during those days?
But today, I can simply tell her to join the Mission. Peace should always be the aftermath.
In the Paldi area, where I was living in 2004, some of the neighboring buildings had recently-erected swastika signs or other such imagery, planted prominently. The signs became enshrined as a permanent mark in people’s hearts, over the years. Soon there were no people to keep out. The regrouping happened automatically.
The riots were still fresh in people’s memory then, not wiped away by a masterful PR campaign. Stories after stories floated around. Shopkeepers in Paldi narrated how people came in cars and looted their shops. One of them told me he saw that they had lists. I hope he imagined it, and has found a way to believe he imagined it. Anyone that I spoke to had a story to tell. None about Sadhbhavana.
The pregnant woman, gang-raped during the riots, can now understand why it happened to her. How will she know unless she takes on the Sadhbhavana cause?
I’ve met many who are already inducted in the Mission are evangelists, who have helped in making the citizenry replace in their minds the notions of ‘aggression’ with ‘assertion’; and ‘autocracy’ with ‘leadership’. ‘Development’ is a skyscraper from Shanghai or a Chevy plant in the new SEZ; ‘Decisive’ is the word that makes the difference and shows in the manner in which you point your finger.
In ad after ads, in photo after photos, Narendrabhai oozes ‘decisive’ — posing, now with one hand held up in determination, now with eyes averted to the sky pondering over something, or simply with his hand on the lapel of his coat…
He’s the chief minister that you could bring home to your parents. You could take him for a ride and put the neighborhood gals to shame. Have you seen Yeddyurappa? No sense of image. (Look where that got him).
Now, the victory of the Mission is in the collective amnesia of what happened — loss of dignity, murder, pillaging. What? We got ‘Development’ in return, didn’t we?
Well, anyway, all the industrialists have signed the visitor’s book. How many more testimonials does he need? His visitor book is full even!
Now I welcome the fast, especially a fast with a deadline seems like a good idea. Not like Anna Hazare’s – indefinite. I like working with deadlines. Very decisive. Plus, it will help me shed some weight. Win-win, as they say.
Vinutha Mallya is an editor based in Ahmedabad