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Counting the votes that won’t matter in Gujarat

Sunday, 9 December 2012 - 9:30am IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: dna

now, riot-displaced Muslims come under Narendra Modi’s radar in poll-bound Gujarat.

The name ‘Bombay Hotel’ conjures up the vision of sprawling colonial architecture that is both elegant and lavish. But in Ahmedabad, Bombay Hotel is the name of a rotting slum without basic amenities, without even gutters for sewage to flow into.

Come to Bombay Hotel, or Citizens’ Nagar, a resettlement colony for riot-displaced Muslims, to know what it means to reside in the state capital and yet be far removed from the chief minister’s consciousness. Except for the stray policeman, Bombay Hotel has never been the destination of Narendra Modi’s officials. Even in this election, nobody from the BJP will come here. Bombay Hotel represents the forgettable ‘dregs of society’, ten years after the riots.

It is ironic that this ‘human garbage’ has found residence next to Ahmedabad’s official garbage dump. Meraj Ansari, a resident of the resettlement colony, points at the mountain of refuse in the distance beyond the tenements. Another resident, Mumtaz Bibi, pleads for a drainage system. She says helplessly, “It all gets mixed up. Here, in this hell-hole, you cannot distinguish between sewage and drinking water.” Not that these Muslims live in extreme penury. The average income per family is close to Rs8,000 per month.

They are mostly artisans, some rickshaw-pullers. Tailors are the best-paid.
But what would do they do with money when they have nowhere to go?

They cannot return to their homes in riot-ravaged Gulberg Society or Naroda Patiya. In a way, they are imprisoned in this resettlement colony, of which there are quite a few in Ahmedabad. Says Sabina Banu: “Our men return from Hindu areas before dusk. We are still too suspicious of each other to keep an appointment in the evening.” She adds: “Even now, if a cracker bursts, we run for cover. We are still very frightened.”

There are numerous examples of Muslims who have moved on, who do not want to be reminded of the riots. Among them are members of the elite Bohras, Khojas and the Memons. But they are a small minority, not even 5% of the total Muslim population. There are also the Muslims who escaped the savagery of 2002. They are willing to forgive and forget, even if Modi would never stoop to say that he is sorry or that he is saddened by what happened to the Muslims more than a decade ago.

The chief minister continues to be ruthlessly insensitive to Muslim sentiments. He behaves as though he is the sovereign of 90.2% of the Gujarati population. The remaining 9.8, who are Gujarati Muslims, do not matter to him. No wonder then that he has never visited Juhapura in Ahmedabad city, a neighbourhood which gives shelter to four lakh Muslims. This election, the Muslims had pleaded with him for five assembly tickets. He gave none. Every election, Narendra Modi sends an unspoken message to the Muslims. It is as though by refusing them any political role, he tells them that he can win without their support.

Human rights activist, Father Cedric Prakash explains: “Those who have compromised for their business interests are busy flaunting Modi’s new-found love for inclusiveness. In reality, not much has changed. The fault-lines remain. Till there is no justice, there won’t be any closure.” Says academic, Achyut Yagnik: “Their (Muslims’) backbone has been broken. They are resigned to a second class citizenship.”

Their businesses and the trades they ply are so intertwined, that there is no way the Muslims and the Hindus can avoid each other. Dr Hanif Lakdawala, head of Sanchetana, an NGO working among the riot-affected, is baffled by Modi’s weird political calculations. He says: “You know why Modi refused to allow the implementation of a Centre-sponsored pre-matriculate scholarship scheme for the minorities? Because the minority student would have received a measly sum of ten rupees more than the amount awarded to the SC/ST student by a similar scholarship.”

Modi puts forward flawless logic. He is against vote-bank politics. He would never appease anyone, even the riot-scarred who need the chief minister’s sympathies. It is interesting that Muslims are now defiant and are educating themselves. Eight hundred largely Muslim-funded voluntary education trusts have come up which are setting up schools -- not madrasas -- and providing Muslim children with mainstream, secular education. Modi should not be taking credit for this remarkable development.

Modi’s sadbhavana yatra did not really bring him closer to the Muslims. A minority within the minority have accepted him as their leader and is teaching itself to survive in Modi’s Gujarat. But there are others, like those in Bombay Hotel, who are only too aware that their vote would not matter in yet another election.


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