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Eyewitness account: 
‘We shall be killed tonight’
By Aziz Burney

On Friday night while we were staying in Ahmadabad state guest house for a short while, there was a phone call from the Muslim majority area of Shahpur requesting Shabana Azmi, member of Parliament (MP), to do something soon otherwise tonight we shall be killed. Hearing this Shabana burst into tears and told me that exactly the same thing had happened in Mumbai earlier. A crowd of seven thousand people has encircled Shahpur and Watoajwapura, the worst-affected areas. The situation is very critical and explosive and anything can happen any time.

The true position of Ahmadabad can be understood from the following fact: On Friday night, BBC’s reporter Rehan Fazal requested for a room in the 5-star Taj Residency Hotel. The hotel manager asked him to give a Hindu name for staying in the hotel. On Rehan’s reply that he cannot do so because he cannot change his name which is mentioned in his visa and passport, the manager said that in that case he cannot stay in his hotel. Rehan narrated this incident to Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Sita Ram Pachori. 

I have come to Ahmadabad alongwith Amar Singh, Raj Babbar, Shabana Azmi and Sita Ram Pachori, all members of Parliament.

An idea of the critical situation can also be had from the fact that the Police Commissioner, CN Pande, told the delegation that for making a round of the city on duty, he has got his beard shaved that very day. Similarly, ANI correspondent told them that he has shaven his beard today itself because people are being identified after disrobing them in the affected areas. Whatever he and Rashtriya Sahara Hindi editor, Govind Dikshit, have seen during one hour only is really terrible. 

Upto a distance of only a few hundred metres from the airport around fifty vehicles were lying burnt. This was the scene in a market where all shops belong to Muslims. On going slightly further, they are stopped by police. High police officials say that you cannot go beyond the guest house and must stop there. At the airport also a police officer had advised us that our venturing into the city will not be safe. The previous day Defence Minister George Fernandes was harassed and misbehaved.

Police and high administrative officials give us details of the dangerous and terrible situation of the previous two days on condition of not mentioning their names. 

We are at the moment in the state guest house from where Amar Singh talks to Chief Minister Narendra Modi on phone No. 2866343 and tells him that they are continuously receiving phone calls from the riot-affected people and tells him that the delegation wants to visit VS Hospital. Modi says that their going to the hospital is fraught with dangers. When we could not provide proper security to George Fernandes how and what security can we provide you, he says. When Amar Singh says that we have police escort with us, Modi said that your going there will lead to increased tension. Thereafter, Raj Babbar tells Modi on phone that a telephone call has just now been received from Bapu Nagar saying that shots are being fired from the residence of the Gujarat state home minister Govardhan Jhaparia. On being asked about Modi’s reply, Raj Babbar said that he says that you know who keeps arms. Hindus do not keep arms. At that moment Amar Singh said that despite danger to our lives, we must go there. According to him, this was a planned and organized official terrorism.

Then Sita Ram Pachori talks to Modi on phone and insists on going there. Modi said that your faces and ideas are known to everybody and hence we cannot guarantee your safety. Pachori said that this was a direct threat from the chief minister. Shabana also talked to Modi who told her too that your going there will further increase the tension.

During our conversations with Modi the state health minister Ashok Bhat and BJP’s youngest MLA, Bharat Pandya, were with us in the guest house. They said that they could have deployed the army the previous day but did not do so because last rites of those killed in Godhra incident are yet to be performed. Pandya named only a few other places, including Jamalpur, where greater tension prevailed and where Hindu-Muslim population ratio is 30 and 60 respectively. When we told him that tension is prevailing in the whole of Ahmadabad, he admitted it and said that people are face to face throughout the city. On being told that the former MP, Ahsan Jaffery, who was killed the previous day, was continuously asking for security on phone for six hours, he said that this former MP had at first fired on the crowd.

In the meanwhile UNI Mumbai’s reporter Sushil Parekh, who had come to Ahmadabad, enters our guest house accompanied by cameraman Uday Ivor. Sushil’s Indica car and his luggage were set ablaze the previous evening in Behrampura and both of them were shaken. They said that they kept asking for shelter for four hours in the riot-hit areas but no one obliged.

We came to know in the guest house that the worst affected people of the city are in Al-Ameen Hospital. On my asking the health minister about the location of this hospital, he expressed his ignorance, adding that this is probably a private hospital. 

It was here also that we came to know that in Watoajwapura area of the city, around two hundred and fifty first class restaurants were reduced to ashes, including Samanwar Hotel (Rs 20 million loss), Kabir Restaurant, Sunflower, Jhajjhar Bangla, Raj Kamal, Tasty Restaurant near Police Post, Abhilasha in Bajrapur, Topaz Hotel, Tulsi Ram Restaurant etc. etc. Burnt ashes can be seen everywhere here.

In spite of police warning, we tried to move out of the guest house but at that very moment a crowd of roughly two hundred people surrounded us. A local leader, Khurshid Sayyed, came forward and said only he knows how he had been able to reach there. He said right in the presence of dozens of policemen there that we should not trust them. We can of course trust the army. He requested and insisted that we should not to go to the riot-hit areas. According to him, he did not see such a terrible and horrible situation since 1959.

At that very moment Aaj Tak TV channel representative, Awasthi who had come alongwith Geroge Fernandes, arrived there. He told us that his Tata Sumo car was excessively stoned and he ran for his life. He also advised us not to go out. Aaj Tak’s cameraman, Ashwini, was hit on the head and was injured.

However, in spite of these warnings we went ahead and reached Police Commissioner’s office which was at a distance of about 150 metres. Throughout this small distance we saw gutted vehicles and horrible sights of torched shops which silently narrate the story of the terrible but real situation there. Amar Singh, seeing the words 'Sewa, Suraksha, Shanti’ (Service, Security, Peace) on a notice-board in the Police Commissioner’s office, asked him: ‘where are all these things in Gujarat?’

It is 12 midnight now. People are awake throughout the city. They are standing in groups at different places. Slogan-shouting is going on. We are in Police Commissioner’s office. Reporters and correspondents of different news agencies and newspapers are also here. They are narrating their experiences of the day. Slogans are also topic of conversation. The slogan that is particularly being talked about is: ‘Jai Shri Ram, ho gaya kaam' (Glory to Lord Ram: Job is done). (Translated from Urdu)

Aziz Burney, editor of the Rashtriya Sahara Urdu newspaper published from Delhi and Lucknow, wrote this report from Ahmedabad on 2 March. 

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