Hindu Nationalists Win Landslide Vote in Indian State
By AMY WALDMAN
NYTimes, 16 Dec - NEW DELHI, Dec. 15 — In an election that was widely viewed as a referendum on India's secular character, Hindu nationalists won a landslide re-election victory today in the western state of Gujarat, which was convulsed by Hindu-Muslim riots early this year.
The vote seemed to affirm the success of the campaign strategy of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party, which had focused on uniting Hindus against a threat of Islamic terrorism and implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, against the state's Muslims.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which also leads the national coalition government, won 126 seats in the 182-seat state assembly. The Congress Party, the main opposition, won 51 seats.
The party's greatest gains came in areas where rioting took place last spring, and where tensions were high. The riots — prompted by 59 Hindu pilgrims' being burned to death in February in a train compartment that had been surrounded by a Muslim mob — left 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslim.
The Bharatiya Janata Party won 52 of 65 seats in riot-affected areas. In central Gujarat, where the rioting was concentrated, it won 45 seats, 30 more than it had in 1998. Even candidates whom witnesses had described as leading or inciting rioting mobs won handily.
The polarization was so severe that in some localities, Muslims, who make up only 9 percent of the state population, and Hindus stood in separate lines on election day last Thursday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's victory defied the anti-incumbency that has defined almost every recent state election in India, as well as the caste-based political equations that had worked in favor of the Congress party in the past.
The results represent a major comeback of sorts for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has lost every major state election, including four in February, in the last two years. A loss in Gujarat could have severely weakened its national coalition.
Before the riots, the party had seemed vulnerable even in Gujarat. In 2000, it lost 25 out of 26 district elections in the state, and earlier this year, it lost two of three assembly by-elections.
But the decision to install Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist preacher turned political organizer, as the state's chief minister last year, and the riots that came under his watch five months later, seemed to have raised the party's fortunes.
Mr. Modi, who was accused of allowing the rioting to unfold unchecked, led a campaign that focused relentlessly on the immolation of the Hindu pilgrims. He and others used it to create a fear of terrorism in Gujarat, and to present the Bharatiya Janata Party as Hindus' protectors.
Today, Mr. Modi said in Ahmedabad that the results represented the defeat of the "pseudo-secularists." Those who were defeated, he said, "should not attempt to divide Gujarat, in whichever field they are, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah."
But for some, the election results showed that the division of Gujarat had already occurred.
"The political marginalization of the five million Muslims of Gujarat is complete," said J. S. Bandukwala, a professor of physics at the University of Baroda and a Muslim who narrowly escaped with his life during the riots last spring.
"Most Hindus of Gujarat have given electoral approval of state-sponsored dehumanization of Muslims," he said, adding that Muslims were now the "new untouchables."
Despite fears that victory celebrations might spiral out of control, there were only sporadic incidents of violence today. A victory parade passing through a Muslim area in the city of Vadodara prompted an exchange of stone-throwing that the police dispersed with tear gas and gunfire. Six people were injured, and a curfew imposed.
The party's national leadership credited the victory in Gujarat to local voters' anger at the criticism of the state after the riots.
Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani said at a news conference in New Delhi: "Ordinarily also we would have gotten a renewed mandate. But the renewed mandate coming in this manner has a lesson for the whole country."
Jaipal Reddy, a spokesman for the Congress Party, said its poor showing was a result of "a purely negative sectarian campaign led by the B.J.P. and its affiliates for the last eight months."
But the Congress Party, which historically has had a strong secular identity, had run what analysts called a "soft" Hindutva, or Hindu-ness, campaign of its own. Its state party president was a former legislator for the Bharatiya Janata Party, and it avoided campaigning among Muslims.
Mr. Reddy defended the Congress campaign, saying, "Secularism is not the same as negation of religion."
But he added, "The communalization of the campaign was so complete, nothing worked."
The victors have their own challenges ahead as well. The election campaign laid bare the divisions in the Hindu nationalist family of organizations, of which the party is merely one element.
It pitted moderates, like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, against hard-liners like Mr. Modi, who has been strongly backed by the World Hindu Council, a fundamentalist sociocultural group that has become increasingly active politically.
Moderates in the party say privately that extremists, and the World Hindu Council in particular, were given a long leash during the campaign because they have a mass base in Gujarat that is unmatched in other states. After the election, an aide to the prime minister said, they would be reined in.
But that may not prove so easy. The council's militantly nationalistic members campaigned hard for the party and will certainly take much of the credit for its victory.
"Gujarat is the graveyard of secular politics," Pravin Togadia, the firebrand international general secretary of the World Hindu Council, declared today. "The graveyard will extend to Delhi."
A Secular India, or Not? At Strife Scene, Vote Is a Test
By AMY WALDMAN
NYTimes, 12 Dec - PAVAGADH, India, Dec. 6 — The Muslims of this village in Gujarat were certainly free to come home, Manoj Joshi said. They simply had to agree to certain conditions first.
No more misbehaving with or marrying Hindu women. No more illegal activities like betting. As important, the 156 Muslims who lived in this village of about 4,000 people should learn to "live like a minority."
"Don't try to dominate the Hindus," warned Mr. Joshi, a shopkeeper and member of the fundamentalist World Hindu Council.
On Feb. 27, 59 Hindus burned to death at Godhra, about 20 miles from here, after a Muslim mob surrounded their train. Hindus quickly took their revenge. In a savage tableau, hundreds of Muslims were burned and beheaded, quartered and raped, often by their Hindu neighbors. Thousands, like the Muslims of Pavagadh, in eastern Gujarat State, were driven from their homes.
Many have yet to come home. But on Thursday they will return, at least briefly and probably under police escort, to vote in one of India's most closely watched state elections in years.
For many Indians, the election is the latest test of whether India's future will be as a secular society, in which its 130 million Muslims have equal rights and protections, or a communal one, in which they live at odds with, and perhaps at the mercy of, its 820 million Hindus.
No one is more concerned about the outcome than Gujarat's Muslims, who feel their livelihoods and security may depend on the results. The violence here was led by Hindu nationalist groups closely linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs Gujarat and leads a national coalition as well. Sometimes it was led by party members and leaders themselves, according to witnesses. The state government initially did little to check it.
Now the state's acting chief minister, Narendra Modi, is leading a campaign based on Hindutva, or Hindu-ness, that aims to unite Hindus, and consolidate their votes, largely around fear of Muslims. His most potent theme, and that of the Hindu nationalists campaigning on his behalf, has been the burning of Hindus in the train at Godhra.
Of the Muslims who were killed or driven from their homes, he says not a word.
Polls have shown the Bharatiya Janata Party leading, but the Congress Party, its main opponent, is gaining. The election, whose results are to be announced Sunday, seems too close to call.
Abdul Hamid Sheikh, 32, who fled Pavagadh with three generations of his family, said that if the Congress Party won, they would feel safe enough to return from the nearby town, Halol, where they took refuge.
"If the B.J.P. is returned to power, he said, "we don't even know if we can live in Halol."
In one sense, the Muslims of this village were lucky. Some 500 Hindus attacked their Islamic school the day after the train's immolation, but no one was harmed. They all left the village under police escort. Over the next two days, with not a policeman in sight, their homes and shops were looted, and in some cases burned.
Nine months later, only five or six families, of about 40, have returned, a situation replicated in varying degrees wherever rioting occurred. One local official estimated that in a 25-mile radius, only half of the 1,000 Muslim families driven out had returned home.
Fear is only one reason. In Pavagadh, economic and social coercion have replaced physical violence. The village's Hindu nationalists have enforced an economic boycott in which no Muslim can work in the village.
In their conditions, meanwhile, they have made clear that any Muslim who returns should do so as a subject, not an equal. "We tell them, `If you want to live here, don't try to become like a father,' " Mr. Joshi, who is 36, said. "Live like a son."
In Gujarat, as in India, Hindus and Muslims have generally lived in peace, with sporadic outbreaks of communal violence, mostly in urban areas. But this year, the violence spread to villages as well, particularly those in central and eastern Gujarat.
Amid the intimacies of village life, personal scores, economic interests and primal fears found a handy vehicle in a Hindu nationalist ideology that at its most extreme seeks an India free of Muslims. Those same intimacies make healing small communities like Pavagadh that much harder.
Pavagadh is set amid the ruins of a medieval town and a 16th-century Islamic sultanate. The mosque at the village edge is 500 years old, and its magnificence is something to which even Hindus here point proudly.
Hindu and Muslim families alike agree that they lived together for a hundred years with no problem. But today the broken minarets on the far humbler building used as the village mosque and school speak to that coexistence fraying.
In the last year or two, both communities agree, things had begun to change. The Hindu nationalists primarily blame Muslim interest in their women. "We treat them as brothers," Mr. Joshi said. "And they are keeping an eye on our sisters."
The village's Muslims say only four or five of their men have married Hindu women. They blame the formation two years ago of a chapter of the Bajrang Dal, the militant youth wing of the World Hindu Council, for the tensions.
Founded in 1984, the group has worked to unite Hindus around their religious and cultural identity, but more and more that message has also been directed against Muslims.
In January Mr. Sheikh and a Hindu shopkeeper had a confrontation. Afterward, he said, youth activists from the group brought at least 200 men from surrounding villages and stoned and looted his shop.
"We destroyed his shop," Naresh Sharma, the slight 26-year-old president of Pavagadh's Bajrang Dal chapter, affirmed. "We gave him a little glimpse of what we can do."
Then came the train burning at Godhra. With it, the division of Muslims and Hindus was complete, Mr. Joshi said. He and Mr. Sharma wore T-shirts featuring a photograph of the burning train. "I will not allow my village to become Godhra," it said.
After the train burning, Mr. Joshi's father, Gansham, a retired economics professor and the World Hindu Council's district chairman, said a mob of 1,000 to 1,500 "outsiders" had come to attack Muslim homes. Some locals might have been involved, he said, but they could not be identified.
Other villagers say that the mob was much smaller — about 200 to 300 — and that most were from the village.
Things could have returned to normal after the rioting, said Gansham Joshi, who is 68. But the Muslims insisted on filing police complaints against 52 young Pavagadh men. Twenty-eight were arrested, among them Mr. Sharma.
They spent two months in jail awaiting bail. "Some were definitely innocent," Gansham Joshi said.
In prison, Mr. Sharma, who, as a Brahmin, sits at the top of the caste hierarchy, found himself doing household work, like cleaning, for the first time. (He did not, however, clean the toilets, he said; the low-caste Hindus in the group did.)
Meanwhile, local officials were holding village meetings to try to enable the Muslims' return. In some villages, Muslims have been allowed to return home after retracting police complaints, forsaking justice for reconciliation. In Pavagadh, too, the Hindus pressed the Muslims, who had come to the meetings under police escort, to drop the charges. The Muslims would not.
"Everyone was looted," Mr. Sheikh said, anguish and anger flitting across an intense face. "Why should we not report it?"
On the men's release, Mr. Sharma said, the Hindu activists made a "policy decision" not to exact revenge, but decided that Muslims could not work in the village.
The Muslim families have survived on help from government, charities or relatives, or on odd jobs. Some have found jobs elsewhere.
B. M. Patel, a local official, said that in the Muslims' absence, Hindus had taken over their shops, and their market share.
"Hindu profit has gone up," he said. "They are not interested in Muslims' coming back."