Gujarat: 20 years after train carnage, communal fissures run deep in Godhra

The Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM stunned everyone last year by bagging seven seats in the 44-member civic body. Godhra has around 2,79,000 voters. Of these, 72,000 are in the Muslim-dominated area.

Godhra (Gujarat): A road cleaves through, marking the divide between Muslim dominated areas and Hindu majority localities, a metaphor perhaps for communal fissures that run deep in a town that instantly recalls the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Twenty years after the burning of a train in Godhra killed 59 karsevaks’ and triggered one of India’s worst post-Partition riots, the poll-scape reflects the yawning gulf between the two communities.

While several minority community residents complain of no development in their localities, people from other areas of the city admit to problems but say they will vote on the issue of Hindutva and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity.

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Corruption, rising unemployment and anti-incumbency against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has been ruling the state for 27 years remain major issues in this sensitive constituency. However, Hindutva and Modi are determining factors and may triumph them all.

The road cuts through Patelwada and Polan Bazaar area near Rani Masjid, the former home to most Hindus and other communities and the latter dominated by Muslims. And the differences are visible.

Polan Bazaar and its surrounding areas are crisscrossed by potholed, shoddily patchworked roads, garbage piled up on the sides and a choked drain winding through a distance away.

The roads on the other side of the Muslim ghetto are wide. The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) houses small industrial units. There is also a theatre, a Pantaloon showroom, and car showrooms

“There are no banks, ATMs, playgrounds on our side of town,” Ishak Bokda, a supporter of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (AIMIM), told PTI.

“Development has always been on the other side dominated by Hindus and other communities,” added Faisal Suleja, AIMIM’s councillor.

The Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM stunned everyone last year by bagging seven seats in the 44-member civic body.
Godhra has around 2,79,000 voters. Of these, 72,000 are in the Muslim-dominated area.

As campaign picks up for the 182-member Assembly elections being held over two phases on December 1 and 5, most bets are on BJP’s sitting MLA C K Raulji who has been representing Godhra since 2007 — from 2007 to 2016 as part of the Congress and the saffron party since 2017.

Against him are the Congress’ Rashmitaben Chauhan, new entrant Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Rajeshbhai Patel and AIMIM’s Shabbir Kachba who is seeking to cement the gains made by the party in the civic polls last year.

Kachba, a 33-year old local imam, accused Raulji of not addressing the issues faced by the constituency, which votes in the second phase.

“More importantly, how can a person who called Bilkis Bano case convicts ‘sanskari’ be elected,” he said, referring to Raulji’s comments on those convicted in the 2002 gangrape and murder case. They have now been freed.

According to Raulji, his main agenda will be to fully implement the projects started from 2017, including a 400-bed medical college and an irrigation project for 104 villages.

The pandemic, lack of opportunities and development are a constant concern. No riots have been reported after 2002 from this town in Panchmahal district of Gujarat that has had a chequered history of communal riots since Independence.

The polarisation is evident. Many expressed their disappointment with the ruling BJP but said they would again vote for the party.

Like Manish Shah, 48, a restaurateur and real estate developer who who lost his mother to Covid and said lack of major industries and corruption are major issues in Godhra.

“But we will vote on the issue of Hindutva and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity,” Shah told PTI.

Shah said he owned an oil depot on a road that borders the Muslim area of the city but sold his property in 2011 and ventured into real estate.

His business partner Indubhai Bhojwani, 53, said corruption is an issue “but the safety of Hindus is an important factor”.

Mukeshbhai Relwani, 47, who owns a paan shop at Lalbaug Chowk said he will “bleed lotus (the symbol of BJP)” if his vein is cut.

“That (the other side where the Muslims reside) is mini-Pakistan. My vote will be for Hindutva,” he said reflecting the distrust between the two communities.

However, Relwani also said the BJP would have been certainly defeated if the opposition had fielded stronger candidates.

“There is no option,” said a businessman on condition of anonymity.

Harin Patel, 43, who is into mining said he had to send his son away to study engineering because Godhra lacks colleges that provide quality education.

Some in the younger lot spoke of their willingness to give the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP a chance. Primary factors, they said, were unemployment and lack of opportunities.

Deepak Padhiyar, 19, a second year student at the Seth PT Arts and Science and Law College said he had applied for the post of police constable but could not clear the written exam but his quest for a better life will continue.

His father is a cobbler with the State Reserve Police Force and his mother a homemaker who also takes care of their footwear shop.

“There is hardly any income from the shop. Now I want to apply for the post of Talati (revenue officer). This time my preference will be to AAP,” Padhiyar said, citing the ‘Delhi model of governance’.

Srimali Kirit (22), a first year law student, claimed unemployment is a crucial factor here.

“This (BJP) government is emphasising on contractual workers who have no pension. There is need for government jobs with implementation of the old pension scheme that will give workers protection after retirement,” Kirit said.

Kirit said his father is no more and his mother gets a pension of Rs 12,000 and another pension of Rs 1,200 under a central scheme for widows, not enough for the family to sustain their livelihood.

The AAP has been pushing for the old pension scheme (OPS) in Gujarat if it is voted to power.

The Gujarat government had introduced a new contributory pension scheme for employees joining the service on or after April 1, 2005.

According to the notification, it will make a matching contribution of 10 per cent of the basic pay plus dearness allowance contributed by the employees in the NPS fund.

Under the Centre’s scheme, the government will contribute 14 per cent against an employee’s contribution of 10 per cent of his/her salary and DA with effect from April 1, 2019.

After protests by employees, the state government had said the new pension will not be applicable to those employees who had joined duty before April 2005. It also promised to increase its contribution in the fund to 14 per cent from the 10 per cent earlier.

The employees have staged massive agitations against the government in Gujarat while demanding restoration of the OPS because they believe the NPS is not in the interest of retiring employees. PTI

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