In Narendra Modi's India, a case of rule and divide

May 14 2014, 15:27 IST
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SummaryReligious segregation under Modi rule in Gujarat has grown sharply

Ali Husain is a prosperous young Indian Muslim businessman. He recently bought a Mercedes and lives in a suburban-style gated community that itself sits inside a ghetto.

In Gujarat, it is so difficult for Muslims to buy property in areas dominated by Hindus even the community's fast-growing urban middle class is confined to cramped and decrepit corners of cities.

Husain embodies the paradox of Gujarat: the state's pro-business leadership has created opportunities for entrepreneurs of all creeds; yet religious prejudice and segregation are deeply, and even legally, engrained.

If a Muslim enquires about a property in a new development, often the response is: "Why are you even asking?" said Husain, speaking at his home in the Muslim neighbourhood of Juhapura, where filthy slum streets rub against smart new apartment blocks and enclaves.

Separation of communities is common across India. Nowhere is it as systematised as it has become in Gujarat.

That matters because the state's chief minister, Narendra Modi, could soon run the country. Exit polls show that when results of a general election are announced on May 16, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies will win a majority in parliament, almost certainly making him India's next prime minister.

The 63-year-old Hindu nationalist has ruled the western state of Gujarat since 2001. He has surrounded himself with technocrats - and also ministers and advisers who promote "Hindutva", a belief in the supremacy of Hinduism. As prime minister, Modi would lead not just 975 million Hindus but 175 million Muslims, around 15 percent of India's population and the third-largest Muslim population in the world.

Modi's record in his home state is clouded by riots in 2002, when 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in a frenzy of mob violence. Modi still struggles to shake off the perception he did not do enough to stop the bloodshed, despite a Supreme Court investigation that found no case against him and his own insistence he did all he could to keep the peace.

Even some Hindus connect Modi to the riots. Pradeep Shukla, a prominent Hindu businessman and former member of the BJP in the Gujarati town of Bhavnagar said Hindus "believe that, somewhere, indirectly, Modi had a hand in it because he supports Hindus. This is why they vote for him."

On the campaign trail, Modi has tried to project a moderate image with a platform that downplays hot-button Hindu issues and emphasises growth and "development for all".

But in Gujarat's neighbourhoods

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