Gujarat evacuees’ message for Modi

It is indeed ironical that the state, which was less than a decade ago rocked by the worst communal carnage of this century, appears oblivious of religious sentiments prevailing among the people. Yes, this refers to virtual negligence displayed towards religious identities of evacuees of Sabarmati River Front Development project, while allocating them houses. The issue has displayed two, hitherto practically unknown aspects about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the citizens of the state. Modi is known for the communal approach maintained by him and his supporters, of which Gujarat-carnage was one stark and gruesome chapter. Communal fire - fuelled by those in power - may have remained confined to only verbal level. It, however, reached the stage of provoking mobs to display their communal frenzy by ruthlessly targeting Muslims. There is substantial reason to believe that the carnage was engineered, with anti-Muslim communal elements having spent considerable time and taken the needed steps to incite large groups of people against Muslims.

Communal polarization along religious lines is still not history for the people of Gujarat nor for those responsible for having incited the same. While wounds of survivors are too deep and intense to ever be considered as healed during the lifetime of the present generation, cases filed against the suspected criminals are not  likely to reach the completion stage in the near future. Amid this backdrop, the state is naturally expected to be viewed as communally sensitive - rather hypersensitive- that may take not long to inflame religious passions.

Paradoxically, the same Gujarat government - which has its image tarnished across the world for the 2002-carnage, at present has people from both communities protesting against it. People are “united” in fighting through organizations, with a leading role being played by “Sabarmati Nagrik Adhikar Manch,” for proper resettlement of the evacuees. This group has given poor Muslims and Hindus one single platform to push forward their grievances. Addressed as “Mohammad Bhai,” the organization’s president is Mohammad Pathan Aliyar Khan and Kalyan Singh Thakur is its Vice President.

The key grievance of Muslims and Hindus affected by Sabarmati River Front Development Project, initiated in 2003, is the demand for allotted houses amidst their own community members. While Muslims want to reside in “Muslim Ahmedabad,” Hindus in “Hindu Ahmedabad.” It is indeed amazing that while on one at hand, they are keen on asserting their distinct religious identities, on other, they have no hesitation in fighting together to have their demands met. While Hindus want to live in Vadaj, Muslims want to be in Muslim-dominated Vatva area.

Till memories of Gujarat carnage do not fade away and till the dark phase does not cease hitting headlines, both Hindus and Muslims can be expected to feel more “secure” among people of their faith. Besides, religious and cultural differences between both the groups in a communally sensitive state like Gujarat can well be expected to prompt them to live at a certain distance from each other. Justifying this stand, a member of Sabarmati Nagrik Adhikar Manch said: “We can fight together but not live together.” Ironically, that is what they are engaged in at present: fighting together to live separately. The poor Gujaratis are certainly conveying a strong message to the Modi government: they are not going to remain mute spectators to being allotted houses without their religious identity being taken into account. In pursuance of their drive, the Manch filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 2005. What stands out is that the Manch is fighting for interests of both Muslims and Hindus, giving priority to their religious identities without becoming communal about the same, but doing so in a “secular” manner.

Considering the “religious hype” that is raised by Modi and his political colleagues about their saffron brigade’s “religious” agenda, one is compelled to wonder as to why have religious sentiments of people been totally ignored while allotting them houses for resettlement. The communities were allotted houses by the city municipal corporation in the suburbs of Ahmedabad in a computer-generated draw of lots, without considering their religious identities. So, is Modi’s “concern” for people’s “religious sentiments” confined to indulging in communal politicking and/or inciting them towards riots? It seems so.

With Modi’s government in power, people are naturally bound to feel more apprehensive and fearful, if they are dumped to reside in areas dominated by “other” religious communities. Indirectly, this also conveys the message that they don’t want to fall victims to another Gujarat carnage. Yes, if they willed,  Hindus could have formed a different Manch and Muslims another one to pursue their demands. But the case has been different, totally in contrast to what probably Modi never expected to take shape. The evacuees through a common Manch are “fighting” to be resettled separately, in keeping with their religious identities. Has Modi got the message, one wonders. The average Indian, including a slum-dweller, knows how to assert his religious identity with a secular spirit, without becoming communal about it!