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Published On:10 December 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

SPECIAL REPORT: Narendra Modi's re-election to usher new era of marginalization and injustice for Muslims

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: As preparations are in full swing for next month’s election in Gujarat, Muslims are worried of a new era of marginalization and injustice under the rule of Hindu nationalists.“You can look at the open gutters and accumulated garbage,” Sajid, who runs a hole-in-the wall watch repair shop in Juhapura area in the western outskirts of Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat, told here.

Incumbent Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power since 2002, is running for a fourth term against opposition leader Shaktisinh Gohil of the Indian National Congress. But, Muslims are worried that Modi’s re-election would mean more years of marginalization under his rule.Saajid, a member of the 400,000-member Muslim community who represents the majority in Juhapura, earns about Rs 3,000 from his work.But the high living costs make this is not enough to feed his family of four.“We can still live with that, but no bank is willing to give us loans,” he said.“We can open accounts and deposit money, but the moment they see a Juhapura address, no loan is sanctioned. We have to borrow from moneylenders paying 60 per cent interest,”Aslam Mirza, who runs a tea-stall nearby, agrees. With “limited education and a Juhapura address, Muslim youth cannot get decent jobs,” he said.“What is the last resort for a hungry and desperate guy? Crime of course.”

There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India and they have long complained of being discriminated against in all walks of life. Muslims complain of decades of social and economic neglect and oppression. Official figures reveal Muslims log lower educational levels and higher unemployment rates than the Hindu majority and other minorities like Christians and Sikhs. They account for less than seven percent of public service employees, only five percent of railways workers, around four percent of banking employees and there are only 29,000 Muslims in India's 1.3 million-strong military. Experts blame the financial policies of the BJP party of exacerbating the difficulties facing poor Muslim communities in the state.“Many of these poor communities depend both directly and indirectly on CPR and feel alienated and victimized by Modi,” social scientist Achyut Yagnik said, referring to the common property resources.“The State might think it is the absolute owner of these resources, but it isn’t; they belong to the community.”According to the Anthropological Survey of India, there are 87 Muslim communities in Gujarat, of which only three are business communities.Those businessmen said would vote only for Modi.“It’s because Bohras, Agha Khanis or Khojas and Memons are all mercantile communities and they support him. And, the Bohra support is because their spiritual leader Syedna openly supported Modi in Rajkot recently,” Yagnik said. But the majority of Muslims opposed Modi’s re-election.“The remaining Muslims are not well to do and they don’t support Modi,” he said.

“Distribution of coastal land for industrial use has adversely affected a large number of fisherfolk or machiara in the Kutch region, most of them being Muslim.”In addition to their deteriorating economic conditions, thirty of the 87 Muslim communities complain from being defined as the socially- and educationally-backward class.This classification makes it extremely difficult to get certification from “the lower bureaucracy, which is mainly Hindu and staunch supporters of Modi,” says Yagnik.Relations between Muslims and the BJP have been strained since the 2002 massacre of Muslims in the state. More than 2,000 Muslims were hacked and burnt to death in Gujarat in 2002 by Hindu mobs after Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire first blamed on Muslims but which a later inquiry concluded was accidental.Several investigations at the state and federal levels accused police of failing to protect Muslims under orders from Modi and hisaides, fanning one of the worst instances of sectarian violence in India.In August, an Indian court sentenced a formergujarat state minister from the BJP to 28 years in jail party.

As the reigning CM of Gujarat since 2001, Narendra Modi has re-entered the state election battle space against the backdrop Gujarat’s continuing economic success while the country experiences overall sluggish growth. However, the 62-year-old leader also faces the challenge of the spectre of a decade-old riot brought alive by a recent court verdict against a minister. Can the incumbent government storm back into power? 

Or will Gujarat’s top leader be forced to exit, making way for fresh faces in the state’s corridors of power?The first phase of the Gujarat Assembly polls will take place on December 13 and the second phase will be held on December 17. Counting of votes will take place on December 20. 

Lurking memories of Godhra carnage

No one talks about the burnt out, rusting shell of Sabarmati Expresss 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 peoples 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 peoples 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 percent 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-and-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 Rauljis 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 paths 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, Prabhatsinhs stronghold,have been included in Godhra.

Former BJP MP Gopalsinh Solanli admits Godhra cant 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.

Now Modi vs Shewta Bhatt

Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) led by Keshubhai Patel recently withdrew its candidate expressing solidarity to Congress candidate from the Maninagar seat Shweta Bhatt, the wife of suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who is contesting the election against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The GPP pulled its candidate back a day after Shewta appealed to all political parties to withdraw its candidates in order to make her electoral battle against Modi easier.

"I appeal to all the political parties which oppose BJP to support me in my political battle against the Gujarat Chief Minister... I appeal especially to GPP Chief Keshubhai Patel to withdraw his candidate," Bhatt recently spoke to mediapersons.

The Maninagar constituency is considered to be a BJP stronghold.

In her maiden press conference, Shweta Bhatt said, "I am not fighting this political battle for myself alone ... I am fighting it on behalf of entire Gujarat, so those who have faith in the Constitution and democracy... political outfits and individuals should support me."

"I am a very new entrant into politics... I have come with a true heart, to speak the truth, and want to do something," she said.

Asked what would be her response if Keshubhai Patel made a counter appeal, Bhatt said, "So far no such appeal has been made from GPP. If it comes, we would see."

Replying to a query about complaint filed in a Lucknow court that her husband violated service rules by accompanying her to file nomination, Bhatt said, "I am an Indian woman and would expect my husband to support me in my endeavours. He came to extend moral support to his wife."

The president of the state unit of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Shakeel Ahmed has accused Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi of not doing enough to rehabilitate victims of the 2002 Godhra riots.Talking to reporters in Ahmedabad, Ahmed said, "Narendra Modi is not ready to take steps for rehabilitation or reconciliation with the state's affected people. Neither was he concerned earlier, not is he interested to do anything now. Instead of working for the people he is busy in manoeuvring his image." He added, "Almost 30,000 people are still living in camps and have not been able to return to their homes because of lack of rehabilitation efforts by the state government. The media also reports about the pitiable condition they have been living in and they have not been adequately compensated."

The central government gave its share of compensation but the state government of Gujarat has not provided any financial assistance to the people who are suffering.""None of the political parties are concerned about the poverty and unemployment in the country. They just care about coming to power.

The Bharatiya Janata party and the Congress Party are busy pulling each other down with the motive of reaping political benefits. Narendra Modi abuses the Congress Party and the Congress party does the same.

That has been the situation," said an elderly Muslim local, Hakim Ali.In Surat, Abdul, a resident, said: "As Muslims, we have also not been given the benefit of government jobs. From a small job to big ones, Muslims feature nowhere.

Even in Saurashtra, government jobs were given to people recently, not even one job was offered to a Muslim."He also slammed Modi for not giving tickets to Muslims in the upcoming state polls.He added: "Even in the upcoming elections, Narendra Modi did not give even a single ticket to Muslims in Gujarat.

It is tough for the Muslims in Gujarat to forgive Narendra Modi because there is a sense of fear that prevails in our hearts. We do not want the BJP government in the state."

J S Bandukwala, retired Professor and prominent human rights and social activist, on being asked on why certain sections of the Muslims are rooting for Modi despite the injustice that has been done to them, said, “We had advised Modi to apologise, but he did not.”

He has identified three kinds of Muslims who are in the frontrunner for supporting Modi. He said, “The muzawars of the dargahs, the pesh imams and the businessmen who need a favour out of Modi are his key supporters.”

Interestingly, he adds that Bohra Muslims, a class known for being very enterprising would still never support Modi though he might stand in for their mercantile aspirations.

This Sadbhavna Yatra is a sham. No Muslims can ever side with Modi or the BJP. Some Muslims have sided with Modi for personal interest,” said Shamshad Pathan, lawyer of the victims of Naroda Patiya.

Congress leader Farooq Sheikh said, “You have to notice that there is not a single Muslim candidate from the BJP in Gujarat.”

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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