Many aspect of modern Gujarati society and polity
appear puzzling. A society which for centuries absorbed diverse people today
appear insular and parochial, and while it is one of the most prosperous states
in India, a fifth of its population lives below the poverty line.
Drawing on academic and scholarly sources, autobiographies, letters,
literature and folksongs, Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth attempt to understand
and explain these paradoxes. They trace the history of Gujarat from the time of
the Indus Valley civilization, when Gujarati society came to be a synthesis of
diverse peoples and cultures, to the state's encounters with the Turks, Marathas
and the Portuguese, which sowed the seeeds of communal disharmony.
Taking a closer look at the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the authors
explore the political tensions, social dynamics and economic forces that
contributed to making the state what it is today: the impact of the British
policies; the process of industrialization and urbanization, and the rise of the
middle class; the emergence of the idea of 'swadeshi'; the coming of Gandhi and
his attempts to transform society and politics by bringing together diverse
Gujarati cultural sources; and the series of communal riots that rocked Gujarat
even as the state was consumed by nationalist fervour.
With Independence and statehood, the government encouraged a new model of
development, which marginalized Dalits, Adivasis and minorities even further.
This was accompanied by the emergence of identity politics based on the Hindutva
ideology, and violence in multiple forms became increasingly visible,
overshadowing Gujarat's image as one of the most industrialized, urbanized and
globalized societies in India.
The authors conclude that this trajectory of Gujarat's modern history has
been propelled by its powerful middle class and future directions would depend
on how this section of society resolve global-local tensions and how they make
their peace with the past.
About the Author:
Achyut Yagnik is the founder-secretary of Setu: Centre for Social
Knowledge and Action, an Ahmedabad-based voluntary organization which has been
working with marginalized communities since the early 1980s. He was a journalist
and has also taught development communication as visiting faculty in Gujarat
University. He is co-author of the book Creating a Nationality:
Ramjanmabhoomi Movement and Fear of the Self.
Suchitra Sheth studied visual communication at the National Institute
of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. She is associated with Setu and has been visiting
faculty at NID and the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gandhinagar.
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