India’s New Face

Meet Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat and the brightest star in the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party. Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo. But he also presided over India’s worst communal riots in decades, a 2002 slaughter that left almost 2,000 Muslims dead. Exploiting the insecurities and tensions stoked by India’s opening to the world, Modi has turned his state into a stronghold of Hindu extremism, shredding Gandhi’s vision of secular coexistence in the process. One day, he could be governing the world’s largest democracy.

Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_01 Mar. 11 09.08 Gujarat’s heightened religious tensions stem from “2002,” as it is simply called by everybody in Gujarat and the rest of India. In the local lexicon, that year has attained a symbolism perhaps as resilient as the force of “9/11” for Americans. It connotes an atrocity that will not die, a sectarian myth-in-the-making that constitutes a hideous rebuke to Gandhi’s Salt March. And at its epicenter stands another charismatic Gujarati, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, an icon of India’s economic growth and development, and a leading force in the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s) Party, or BJP.

What local human-rights groups label the “pogrom” began with the incineration of 58 Hindu train passengers on February 27, 2002, in Godhra, a town with a large Muslim population and a stop on the rail journey from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh, in north-central India. The Muslims who reportedly started the fire had apparently been taunted by other Hindus who had passed through en route to Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh, on their way to demonstrate for a Hindu temple to be built on the site of a demolished Mughal mosque. Recently installed as chief minister, Modi decreed February 28 a day of mourning, so that the passengers’ funerals could be held in downtown Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city. “It was a clear invitation to violence,” writes Edward Luce, the Financial Times correspondent in India, in his book, In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India. “The Muslim quarters of Ahmedabad and other cities in Gujarat turned into death traps as thousands of Hindu militants converged on them.” In the midst of the riots, Modi approvingly quoted Newton’s third law: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Mobs coalesced and Hindu men raped Muslim women, before pouring kerosene down their throats and the throats of their children, then setting them all on fire.

More here.