Sixteen years after hate tore up the social fabric of Gujarat, it is experiencing a rerun though for a different reason. While 2002 witnessed unprecedented communal riots that left over 1,000 dead, the current hate wave is against migrants, especially those from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. At the root of the anger is the rape of a 14-month-old girl on September 28 for which a Bihari labourer was arrested.
Despite prompt police action, sporadic violence against Hindi-speaking migrants spread, affecting at least six districts, most of them in north Gujarat, catching everyone by surprise. Anecdotal evidence suggests goons were picking on Biharis and UPians, warning them to pack up and leave in a day.
The violence was allegedly fanned by the Kshatriya Thakor Sena, which is led by Congress lawmaker Alpesh Thakor, since the victim belonged to their OBC community. Alpesh sought to describe it is a manifestation of the unrest in the community’s youth because of lack of jobs. Congress President Rahul Gandhi, too, pretty much made the same point. Not to be left behind, the BJP indulged in finger-pointing, blaming the Congress for the mass hysteria. Many activists of the Thakor Sena have since been arrested, yet the exodus continues, with some pegging it over 20,000.
For a state like Gujarat where migrants make up over one-third of the population and form a big chunk of the industrial workforce, this is a huge setback. Violence against migrants have in the past happened in states like Maharashtra and Karnataka but not in Gujarat.
Also, language has never been an emotive issue there. It’s up to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani to take visible and firm action to tamp down the fear and bring all the goons to book. No amount of finger-pointing can quite rescue the BJP as all three states—Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar—are ruled by the NDA. As for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, letting matters drift will affect India’s stature. And since he represents Varanasi in the Lok Sabha, the exodus of UPians could hurt him politically as well.