This book takes a probing look beyond Hindutva to get to the heart of Gujarat. Many aspects of modern Gujarati society and polity appear puzzling. A society which for centuries absorbed diverse people today appears insular and parochial, and while it is one of the most prosperous states in India, a quarter 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 seeds 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 resolves global - local tensions and how they make their peace with the past.
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 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.