Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Friday observed a Sadbhavana (goodwill) fast in this minority-dominated town, where a train carnage sparked violent communal riots in the State in 2002.
With just a few days to go for the completion of a decade of the riots, Mr. Modi returned to the headquarters of the Panchmahals district with his message of “unity, peace and brotherhood” among all communities which, he claimed, was the “secret of Gujarat's rapid progress” in the last 10 years but “eyesore” to the UPA government at the Centre and the Congress governments in other States.
“No one but the six crore people of the State are to be credited for what Gujarat is today,” Mr. Modi said, addressing the gathering at the conclusion of his daylong fast. He announced a special package of Rs. 1,500 crore for development projects in the district.
The small town of about 1.50 lakh people, nearly half of them belonging to the minority community, saw very tight security. More than 1,500 policemen were deployed at the fast venue on the sprawling SRP Ground, besides special commando forces and closed-circuit television cameras. Uniformed men dotted the entire town.
In his hour-long speech, there was not a word on the train carnage, but Mr. Modi did mention about “curfews” that besieged Gujarat before 2002. “Children born in the last 10 years do not know what curfew is, but before that it used to be a routine affair.” The people in the State “used to look for opportunities” to trigger off communal clashes from religious, social and even small roadside accidents involving the two communities, he said.
Also there was a time when Godhra town itself experienced 300 days of continuous curfew in a year. “We have seen those days, but that is a thing of the past. Gujarat has killed the evil of casteism and has buried communalism.”
He assailed the UPA government for its alleged step-motherly treatment of Gujarat and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's “ignorance” of malnutrition in the country.
Mr. Modi said he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Postal department had “stolen” his coinage of Sadbhavana to launch a postal stamp with the same name on Friday. “Even in giving names, the Centre has to copy Gujarat.”
Most of the local Muslims, however, were not impressed with Mr. Modi's mission of Sadbhavana for all. “How can there be Sadbhavana?” asked Sayed Umarji, son of Moulana Umarji, who spent nine years behind bars in the high-security Sabarmati central jail as the “main conspirator” of the train carnage. He was acquitted by the special court last year. “There is tremendous amount of fear among the Muslims here and their not attending the programme is a clear message to the country that the wounds have not yet healed,” Sayed Umarji said.
Early in the morning, a group of human rights activists led by ANHAD chief Shabnam Hashmi was arrested as it went in procession to organise a sit-in protest. The activists said the Modi government had done nothing for the riot-victims so far. Several human rights organisations condemned the arrests.
Meanwhile, the Congress, led by the former Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, held a parallel Satkarma fast in the town. It said Mr. Modi's “five-star fast” was a drain on the people's money which, from the State exchequer, was used for his political advantage. .