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.
by Robert D. Kaplan,
Atlantic Monthly, April 5, 2009
If the spirit of modern India has a geographic heartland it is Gujarat, the northwestern state bordering Sindh, in Pakistan. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the mahatma—Sanskrit for “great soul”—was a Gujarati, born in Porbandar, on the Arabian Sea, in 1869. The signal event of the Indian independence movement was the Salt March that Gandhi, joined by thousands, led in March 1930 across Gujarat, from the Sabarmati Ashram 241 miles south to Dandi, on the Gulf of Cambay. There Gandhi picked up a handful of salt on the beach and defied the British law prohibiting the collection or sale of salt by anyone but the colonial authorities. “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life. It is the only condiment of the poor,” Gandhi wrote. In a letter to the viceroy he argued, “I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s standpoint. As the independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil.”
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