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Godhra incident godsend for Modi
By MH Lakdawala

Continued from

The Godhra incident provided the Gujarat BJP with handle to try to recapture some of the lost grounds for the BJP to fight the Assembly elections due in February next year.

In the case of the lynching of former Congress member of Parliament, Ahsan Jaffrey, Modi was quick to point out that it was Jaffrey who had first fired at the mob!. He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob of 5000 people, which has already slaughtered many people in the area, approaches him and the police and the administration deliberately did not respond to his pleas for six long hours he spent on the phone trying to get help. 

Moreover, Gujarat's minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphia, who has risen from the ranks of the VHP, played openly partisan role. There are clear indications that Gordhan Zadaphia tied the police commissioner's hands. Zadaphia is a supporter of the international general secretary of the VHP, Pravin Togadia, at whose insistence the home portfolio was given to him when Modi became chief minister, for obvious reasons. There are highly disturbing indications of official culpability which show the state government in very poor light. Some of these relate to admissions by senior police personnel that their officers and men may have been remiss in their duties because of the prevailing 'sentiments'. This abdication of responsibility is also evident from reports that the police were often passive bystanders during the mayhem perpetrated by the rioters. These omissions suggest that the state government was neither efficient nor impartial. Armed as it is with special laws to deal with terrorist groups and organised criminals, the Government will have no excuse for not invoking them against the likes of the VHP. However, few will be surprised by its role considering that it helped the VHP both politically and administratively during the build-up of the Ayodhya movement during the last few weeks. A government which plays a partisan role in one context can hardly be expected not to do so when trouble breaks out in another.

The entire episode of carnage in Gujarat must be viewed in the context of the recent by-election results where there were clear indications of BJP losing grip over voters. Moreover, fresh from a drubbing in the by-elections in four states, there is another battleground awaiting the BJP and the Congress in Gujarat. After its recent defeat in two of the three legislative assembly constituency by-elections in Gujarat, the BJP faces another acid test as the state election commission has decided to hold elections to 86 municipalities in 21 districts of Gujarat on March 31.

The municipal elections will offer one more opportunity to the two major political players to test their strength before the general assembly elections, which are one year ahead. The municipal elections have been postponed on earlier occasions on account of the drought and earthquake. However, late last year, the state government agreed to hold the elections to the gram panchayats (village councils) and tried its best to evolve consensus, instead of elections, by offering the lucrative 'samras' package. Which party won the gram panchayat elections is still not clear, as the candidates did not fight on party symbols. However, these 86 municipalities will see a direct confrontation between BJP and Congress candidates. Already, there are signs of the BJP's hold over both the rural and urban electorates weakening. This was amply reflected in the recent by-elections in Gujarat when it could only hold on to Rajkot-2 and that too because it had the chief minister as the candidate.

Losses in Sayajiganj and Mahuva continue to reflect on the losing grip of the party on the pulse of the electorate in Gujarat. Even in Rajkot, the victory margin of 14,728 for Modi is considered quite handsome, but is not very impressive considering the fact that the former finance minister Vajubhai Vala who vacated the seat for Modi had won by nearly 27,000 votes from the same constituency. This reflects on the strides that Congress has made in Saurashtra, which was evident when it captured the Rajkot Municipal Corporation after a gap of nearly two decades.

The surge in the fortunes of the Congress which had also won the by-elections to the Sabarmati and Sabarkantha seats late last year forced the BJP to dump the then chief minister Keshubhai Patel and opt for a younger leader in Narendra Modi. The overwhelming victories of Congress in the district, taluka panchayats and municipal corporations in September 2000, and in the Sabarkantha parliamentary and Sabarmati Assembly byelections last year, have shaken BJP as it was loosing its grip over this state which they call the largest Hindutva laboratory. The people of Gujarat clearly were not taken in by the cosmetic changes effected in the administration by the change of guard last October. Thus what better way than polarise the communal atmosphere, an art both Congress and BJP have mastered over the years.

As India nudges backward to the edge, Pakistan says it has increased security around Hindu temples and Hindu residential areas to cope with any spill-over. The Godhra incident may have provided a ready situation for Mr. Modi to try to recapture some of the lost ground for the BJP to fight the Assembly elections which are due in February next year. As of now, shocked by the Godhra incident, a substantial section of the Hindus is finding a common cause with the VHP and in turn with the BJP, but whether the advantage will last and could be reaped a year later, only the time will tell.
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