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Gujarat government cold-shoulders Muslims, prepares for polls

New Delhi, June 16: Gujarat chief minister Narender Modi is now preparing for early elections in the riot-torn state which is still struggling to limp back to normalcy. Over two hundred thousand (officially under one hundred thousand) victims are still in relief camps, stabbings and arson still take place as a daily routine, but the central leadership has given green light for early elections in order to cash in on the current Hindu-Muslim polarisation. 

Modi had wanted to conduct elections only a month after he initiated the pogroms as a "reaction" to the Godhra train tragedy on February 27. A nationwide outcry and a possible rejection of the proposal by India's powerful Election Commission, kept him back. Now after his meeting last Friday with the party strongman, Home Minister LK Advani, the hurdles have been cleared. He said in a press conference in New Delhi after the meeting, "The polls are due in March next year and can be held anytime before that." 

Modi's statement comes close on the heels of the state governor Sunder Singh Bhandari's statement in which he sketched a rosy picture on the prevalent law and order situation in the state and the possibility of holding elections as well. Like Modi, Bhandari too is a hardcore member of the extremist Hindu organisation, the RSS, which is the mentor of the ruling party, the BJP.


In a meeting on June 8 with around 100 Muslim representatives, Modi outright rejected the demand that worst affected riot victims be provided alternative resettlement sites. He also refused any government funds to rebuild the ransacked shrines saying that it is not the state's duty to repair places of religious worship. 

Governor Bhandari had met Advani at New Delhi on June 5 to prepare the ground since the party feels that it is losing ground in Gujarat with every passing day. After the meeting, Bhandari claimed in front of mediapersons that the law and order situation in the state has improved and that "the environment is conducive for elections to be held in the state". He also indicated that by and large the overall situation in the state has now become "conducive", and that it would be proper at this stage that elections in the state be held on or before the scheduled time. 

Despite such claims about the "conducive" situation in the state, a significant number of killings have taken place in recent weeks and the existing communal tension in the state remains grim as ever. There is no sign of normalcy being restored in the near future, taking into account the daily stream of news from Gujarat.

Modi government has already been indicted by India's official human rights watchdog, the National Human Rights Commission, for its "comprehensive failure" in tackling the communal violence in Gujarat. Umpteen national and international human rights organisations have strongly criticised the state government's role in the pogroms which they said were pre-planned and enjoyed state patronage.

Gujarat state governor Bhandari, too, has not been absolved of responsibility and the questionable role he played during the anti-Muslim pogroms in the state since February 28. An Urdu weekly, Nai Duniya, on June 14 questioned the role of Bhandari when the communal riots in the state went on for full three months. Bhandari, who was later transferred to Gujarat, during his earlier tenure as Bihar governor had tried to dismiss the Rabri Devi government for "jungle raj" (rule of anarchy) in the state when a few (Hindu) Scheduled Caste people were killed in that state. But in Gujarat he has preferred to look the other way while the whole world took notice of the pogroms. Governor Bhandari's reports to the central government about the situation in Gujarat do not censure the state government.

"Is the law of the land only for 'jungle raj' in states like Bihar [ruled by an opposition party] and not for Gujarat where much worse barbaric incidents took place against Muslims and that too under the direct patronage of the state chief minister himself?" Nai Dunya asked.

Meanwhile, in yet another startling development, Gujarat chief minister Narender Modi has reneged on his earlier promises to rehabilitate the Muslim victims in the recent pogroms. 

In a sudden turnaround Modi went back on the promises he made to Gujarat Muslim leaders last month under national and international pressure. Understandably, this time, under the pressure of his saffron brotherhood (VHP and Bajrang Dal who masterminded the gory crimes), Modi has gone back on his promises to rebuild mosques and graveyards damaged in the riots. Moreover, due to the Indo-Pak standoff the pressure has shifted from Gujarat.

Modi had also assured Muslim leaders last month of his intention to offer new rehabilitation sites for the victims of the worst cases of riots like Naroda-Patia, Chamanpura (Gulbarg Society), Sardarpura, Best Bakery and Panwad and of other carnages, who did not wish to return home. In a meeting on June 8 with around 100 Muslim representatives, Modi outright rejected the demand that worst affected riot victims be provided alternative resettlement sites. He also refused any government funds to rebuild the ransacked shrines saying that it is not the state's duty to repair places of religious worship. 

Muslims in Gujarat have been coldshouldered in more ways than one. If the state government has turned against them so have India's business and corporate leaders. Unlike the earthquake victims, the Muslim riot victims are not fortunate to receive even a little bit of sympathy. Business and corporate leaders have not been forthcoming to provide aid to the riot victims. Threats from saffron elements are keeping them away, business leaders claim. "Whatever little we are doing is on the sly, through independent agencies and NGOs," said a businessman, admitting that his ilk had received threats from Hindu extremists against helping Muslims victims.

Sunil Parikh, senior director, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), admitted that they could not do much with regard to rehabilitation work as unlike the earthquake relief, the government did not spell out its policy. A Mumbai-based banker accused corporate houses for keeping away from relief operations. He said that his efforts to organise relief for Gujarat from corporate houses yielded disappointing results with hardly any one coming forward.

Enthused by last month's dubious "success" in Goa legislative assembly elections, BJP in Gujarat has started poll preparations in right earnest. The Indo-Pak military stand-off and the accompanying surge of nationalist sentiments also played its part to embolden the tainted party.

According to intelligence and media reports, the Modi government is behind the current violence in Gujarat to keep the communal pot on the boil and thereby keep intact the current Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the state which will convert into votes for the BJP.

Home Minister Advani visited Ahmedabad in mid-June to assess the situation and he may give the signals for assembly dissolution anytime to pave the way for early polls.

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