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This Powerful Film Shows How 2002 Gujarat Riots Helped BJP Win The Elections

Posted by Sourodipto Sanyal in Politics, Staff Picks
May 15, 2017

On January 26, 1950, India chose to become a republic. Despite having come fresh out of the savageness of the Partition, we refused to use religion as the basis of a national identity. However, what happened in Gujarat in 2002, was an attempt by some to shatter the very idea of India as a pluralistic republic.

Rakesh Sharma’s 2003 documentary “Final Solution” makes you experience this calamity through the eyes and voice of the people who suffered during the riots that happened in Gujarat in 2002. The film is also an observation on the beginning of the rise of Narendra Damodardas Modi, the most powerful man in this country today.

The movie opens with scenes of victory as BJP cadres and supporters celebrate their win in the Gujarat state assembly elections, in December 2002.

The atmosphere is jubilant and toxic. Young boys who look under 18, shout out the choicest abuses in front of the camera for Muslims, with smiles on their faces. For the next two hours or so, the viewer, unless he carries a baggage of prejudice which can’t be reversed, will be moved to tears by the grim reality of one of the most tragic incidents in independent India.

Rioting mobs in Gujarat, 2002.

After the first scene, the film delves into the question of just what made it possible for the BJP to win the Gujarat elections in 2002. It talks about the backdrop this victory came in – that of the Godhra train carnage (where 59 karsevaks were burned to death) and the riots that followed in which majority of the victims were Muslims.

The documentary consists of excerpts that take the viewer to different places. The camera takes us to the relief camps established after the Gujarat riots in February-March, 2002. There are interviews of the survivors who had somehow managed to avoid the fate of their loved ones by escaping the riots. Family members of the Hindu victims, who were burned to death are also depicted. The ones who are sympathetic to the riots or alleged to have taken part in it back then are also given a voice.

Gruesome stories of Muslim survivors narrating the brutality with which children from their family were savagely murdered, will disturb you for a really long time. One of the most moving scenes is when a Muslim man looking at his identity card, which is proof of him being an Indian citizen, breaks down. For when religious identities and emotions are exploited, an identity card is nothing more than a piece of paper.

Some of the Hindu victims of the train burning in Godhra, which led to the riots are also used for winning the elections. They are made martyrs by the Hindutva right, in their fight against Jihad, while the relatives of the victims continue to maintain good relations with Muslims.

The movie also features leaders like Pravin Togadia belonging to the Vishva Hindu Parishad giving inflammatory speeches on the streets of Gujarat against people from the minority community, even as the crowd looks on and applauds.

The entire film, in fact, gives a chilling picture of just how toxic a cocktail of politics and religious identities can be, and how it can permanently scar generations. How polarisation in the name of religion can generate a limitless hatred, which then gets passed on from generation to generation. Unfortunately, neither the young nor the old are immune from these scars which get settled deep in the subconscious, ready to be exploited before elections.

One also sees a very different Modi here, from the one we now see and hear about through his Twitter feeds, international press conferences and speeches in the Parliament after he became the Prime Minister in 2014. He carried out a ‘Gaurav Yatra’ (Journey of Pride) prior to the elections in December 2002. It was to mobilise people against what he called the ‘defamation’ of Gujarat by the Indian National Congress since it constantly brought up the issue of communal riots. Visiting Muslim refugee camps was probably not the priority when a Hindu vote bank could be utilised to win elections. The leader who only strikes the right notes in his official statements, once upon a time, said that if ‘Hindu’ terrorism was to exist, it would wipe out Pakistan from the world map.

Despite the narrative of Modi as the penultimate ‘Vikas Purush’, this movie shows that when the time came, the man showed why he had sworn allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, as an 8-year-old kid.

Another thing that the movie powerfully captures is the hatred amongst many in the Hindu community during that time. A feeling of an anti-Muslim sentiment had managed to spread its poisonous wings across classes. The man who seems to be repairing cycles for a living is convinced that the ‘Muslim’ is his enemy and not poverty. And for that, he wants to vote for Narendra Modi. So are middle-class residents of Juhapura, who have created high walls with barbed wires on top to prevent Muslims from coming in.

The film is a study of a secular polity desperately trying to clasp to the very idea of a tolerant India. However, at least in Gujarat in 2002, it fell flat on its face. For the lumpen elements in society, unable, and perhaps unwilling to shed prejudices and past grievances, have the last laugh. BJP won in 2002, but Gujarat and India lost.

Image source: Shailesh Raval/ The India Today Group/ Getty Images