I had just arrived at the Ahmedabad airport on my way to Gandhinagar to help my mother-in-law and other family members and friends from Gulberg Society who had escaped the carnage three days earlier in which dozens of Muslims including my father-in-law and the former Member of Parliament Ahsan Jafri was killed.
I had been warned that taxis were not safe. Just two days earlier, two boys who had given their names as Ashish and Rajesh, had been pulled out of a taxi and killed when somebody in the crowd recognized Rajesh as Shabbir, the software consultant, who had been working in Hyderabad.
Taxis at the airport refused to take the 20 km drive with me to Gandhinagar. I had to wait for six hours before arrangements were made by my friends at Gandhinagar to get me picked up with a police escort.
Having lived in Gujarat for several years during my studies and having known Gujarati people for their generosity, commerce, custom, kindness, compassion and humor, what I saw that day was unbelievable, even frightening. As we drove through the city, I saw dozens of burnt and destroyed shops, houses and mosques. A few were still burning.
Three weeks that I spent in Gujarat in March 2002 have been the most troubling days of my life. Everyday, I felt, could be my last day.
Where has this land of Mahatma Gandhi gone wrong in just ten years of my leaving Gujarat? At the risk of trivializing the apparent deviation of Gujarat and the Gujaratis from those Gandhian values, one may say that it is the vote bank politics of today that is mostly responsible for the communal polarization of the state.
Politicians in their passion for power are playing the game of "divide and rule"- a legacy of the British Raj which we passionately condemn and yet continue to practice. That divide and rule mantra seems to have assumed new proportions and significance in Gujarat.
I remember Gandhiji’s teachings where he had laid down seven mistakes those invariably lead to violence - wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principles. What we see today in Gujarat is a naked display of such unprincipled politics.
Gujarat tragedy was not a result of religious intolerance between Hindus and Muslims, but of extremism, which is a religion in itself. When extremists control the government, tragedies like the Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia and Gujarat occur.
However, mere criticism of a political ideology or the opportunity that exists in exploiting the religious sentiments of the people for power, however repugnant, however hurtful and harmful for the nation, is not going to stop those who will continue to use it for their narrow interests and petty gains. We will have to do much more than just criticize.
Indian intellectuals will have to start a serious campaign at the grassroots in educating our people. Hindus and Muslims and all other races will have to work together to save our country from falling into the hands of extremists who may rapidly take it down into the abyss of irrelevancy in today's competitive world which otherwise can offer global markets, global opportunities and global reach in return for peace, security and democracy.
Gujarat has already lost more than 10,000 crores rupees worth of businesses and properties. Further loss in terms of time, lost opportunities, destroyed businesses and pulled out investments will add thousands of crores more. Anyone who thinks all this loss can be easily made up while communal polarization remains, is under a delusion.
I hope Advaniji is listening. And as for taking the initiative to build the bridge and a proposal to work together, I personally feel it would be better if it came from the Muslim leadership.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "If you board the wrong train, it’s no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction". Before second World War, Japan was not just arrogant but also extremely powerful. But in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the USA dropping nuclear bomb on Japan, its leadership quickly realized that running along the corridor in the opposite direction will not work for Japan’s further interests.
So going against the Japanese sentiments and the feelings of pride, Hirohito, the head of the Japanese Royal Family, unilaterally declared on August 14, 1945, "We have resolved to pave the way for a ground peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable." That admission led Japan put its bitterness of the war and defeat behind it and helped Japanese move forward.
Today, Japan is the world powerhouse, not militarily because it does not need that, but economically. There is a lesson here for our Hindu and Muslim leadership. Bite the bullet, put the past behind and move forward as a union, with strength. In this world only those succeed who instead of railing against defeats show magnanimity and accept it with a view to do something positive.
Our unique social mix and talent pool, diverse cultural value system, and the world recognized ancient wisdom provide us a powerful pedigree and the apparatus to succeed. Now let us put that to work for us.
Stating an important psychological reality derived from the Biblical story of Abel and Cain - the two sons of Adam - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan says, "When revenge crosses all limits, it transforms itself into regret; when anger is given a full play, it ultimately turns to acknowledgment; after showing its most cruel face, animality reverts to humanity".
In Gujarat we have seen one of the worst human tragedies in terms of revenge, anger and ultimate animality. It is time not just to acknowledge and regret those acts and behavior, but come together to pledge and more importantly work together never to let that tragedy repeat again.
Only then we will realize the vision of our forefathers and the dreams of our children.
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