Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Polarized Godhra goes to polls

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s Development Mantra Has Failed To Exorcize 2002 Riots Ghost Here
Robin David | TNN

Godhra: No one talks about the burnt out, rusting shell of Sabarmati Express’s S-6 coach, lying in one corner of Godhra railway station since February 27, 2002. But you can feel its looming presence on the town like a 3D hologram.
    Everyone in Godhra parrots Narendra Modi’s favourite mantra — development — but the ghost of 2002 constantly keeps re-emerging from behind it. As if the tag of being the ground zero of the 2002 riots has been branded on the people’s subconscious. ‘Development’ is a camouflage for the painful memory. Sometimes, the camouflage works. Sometimes it fails.
    For instance, a colony of 2002 riot victims created here from different parts of Gujarat is euphemistically called Aman Park Society. But informally it has another name — Bilkis Nagar — after Bilkis Bano who famously fought for justice in court after being raped and witnessing the murder of her loved ones.
    Maulana Hussain Umarji, once called the main conspirator of the train carnage and now acquitted, has been bedridden for the past month, suffering from a mild brain haemorrhage. His son Saeed says it is all because of constant high blood pressure. Even after his acquittal, his father can’t bear the burden of having been treated like a terrorist.
    About three years ago, prominent doctors of Godhra got together and started what is Panchmahal’s first hi-tech multi-speciality hospital. The directors are offering a monthly salary of Rs 2.25 lakh to physicians. “But, for three years, many of them from outside the town have refused our offer, not wanting to shift to Godhra,” says ophthalmologist Sameer Mehta, one of the directors. “Most people still associate Godhra with the 2002 riots.”
    It is in this backdrop that this deeply divided town will go to the polls on December 17. Sitting Congress MLA C K Raulji, seems to have borne the brunt of people’s anger. Many feel he has brought precious little to the town in the last five years. “To say you can’t do anything just because you are in the opposition is an argument no one takes seriously,” says a businessman on the condition of anonymity. “There was no proper drainage system in Godhra 50 years ago and there are no gutters in Godhra today.”
    But Raulji still enjoys the support of Muslims who constitute a healthy 20 per cent plus of the electorate. As Saeed put it, “We have no choice. There is no way that Muslims will vote for BJP even if they are disillusioned by Congress, Sadbhavana or no Sadbhavana.” He adds that Hindus and Muslims have always lived in their ghettos and the rift only widened after 2002. “There are very few efforts to bring the two communities together.”
    But not all Muslim leaders see the electorate in such black-&-white terms. One such leader, who was acquitted in the train carnage case last year, says BJP has smartly given the ticket to Pravinsinh Chauhan, who will attract enough minority votes to dent Raulji’s chances. Pravinsinh is son of BJP’s Godhra MP Prabhatsinh Chauhan, who has fair access to Muslims from his days in Congress. The rift between Hindus and Muslims may be widening, but some people believe they can create their own pathways in between. Of the 2.11 lakh voters in Godhra, more than 48,000 are Muslims. The only group larger than Muslims is Other Backward Classes.
    The latest delimitation too will have a bearing on the result. Sources said many of the villages that Raulji controlled have been included in the neighbouring constituency Shehra now. On the other hand, some villages of Kalol, Prabhatsinh’s stronghold,have been included in Godhra.
    Former BJP MP Gopalsinh Solanli admits Godhra can’t forget its communal past that easily. “Muslims are not going to forget 2002,” he says. “After all, nearly 100 of them spent nine years in jail for the Sabarmati Express carnage. A good candidate may still get some Muslim votes, but the percentage will be very small.”