It’s said that Gujarat’s Temple of Somnath witnessed the creation of the universe; sometime later, the state became Krishna’s stomping ground. On a firmer historical footing, Lothal and Dholavira (Kachchh) were important sites of the Indus Valley civilisation more than 4000 years ago. Gujarat featured in the exploits of the mighty Buddhist emperor Ashoka, and Jainism first took root under a grandson of Ashoka who governed Saurashtra.
The rule of the Hindu Solanki dynasty from the 10th to 13th centuries, with its capital at Patan, is considered Gujarat’s cultural golden age. Solanki rule was ended when Ala-ud-din Khilji brought Gujarat into the Delhi sultanate after several campaigns around 1300. A century later the Muslim Gujarat sultanate broke free of Delhi rule and established a new capital at Ahmedabad. The Mughal empire conquered Gujarat in the 1570s and held it until the Hindu Marathas from central India occupied eastern and central Gujarat in the 18th century. The British set up their first Indian trading base at Surat on Gujarat’s coast in about 1614, and replaced Maratha power in the early 19th century.
It was from Gujarat that Gandhi launched his program of nonviolent resistance against British rule, beginning with protests and fasting, and culminating with the 390km Salt March, which drew the attention of the world and galvanised anti-British sentiment across India. After Independence, eastern Gujarat became part of Bombay state. Saurashtra and Kachchh, initially separate states, were incorporated into Bombay state in 1956. In 1960 Bombay state was divided along linguistic lines into Gujarati-speaking Gujarat and Marathi-speaking Maharashtra. The capital was shifted to the planned city of Gandhinagar in 1970.
The Congress Party of India largely controlled Gujarat until 1991, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. In 2002 communal violence erupted after a Muslim mob was blamed for an arson attack on a train at Godhra that killed 59 Hindu activists. Hindu gangs set upon Muslims in revenge. In three days an estimated 2000 people were killed (official figures are lower) – most of them Muslims – and tens of thousands were left homeless. The BJP-led state government was widely accused of tacitly, and sometimes actively, supporting some of the worst attacks on Muslim neighbourhoods for political gain. Later that year Gujarat’s then chief minister Nahendra Modi won a landslide re-election victory. A decade hence, in 2012, a former BJP minister was convicted of criminal conspiracy and murder in the Naroda Patiya massacre during the Godhra riots, but Modi has thus far been cleared of all charges related to the violence. Since the 2002 riots, Gujarat has been peaceful, and it enjoys a reputation as one of India’s most prosperous and businesslike states. And Modi, of course, became India’s prime minister in 2014.