Even as support for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's ‘Sadbhavana Mission' continued to pour in from all over the country on the second day of his three-day fast on Sunday, the police foiled a bid by the victims of the 2002 communal riots to stage a dharna at Naroda-Patiya in the heart of the city.
Danseuse and social activist Mallika Sarabhai, lawyer and Jan Sangharsh Manch convener Mukul Sinha, who represents the riot victims before the G.T. Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission, and 57 others were picked up by the police and taken away to the Shahibagh station.
The dharna was organised by the Manch to demand “justice” for the victims who had been waiting for it for the past nine years and to sign an “open letter” addressed to Mr. Modi questioning the advisability of his fast when he had “no desire and intention of giving us justice.”
However, as soon as the protesters carrying placards started converging on Naroda-Patiya, — the scene of one of the worst massacres that killed 95 people — the police swooped down and took them away in vans. The police said they were arrested for violating orders banning assembly of more than four persons. All of them were released later.
In their “open letter,” the victims questioned why Mr. Modi had to undertake the fast when no other Chief Minister had ever undertaken such an exercise to “earn the goodwill” of the people. “Have you realised after about a decade that all the so-called developmental publicity cannot earn you the faith, respect and love of the people,” it asked.
The victims demanded that Mr. Modi disclose the names of those guilty of the 2002 genocide if he claimed he was “innocent.” “If you were such a great Chief Minister in 2002, as you claim to be now, why could you not protect the innocent victims of the genocide or the victims of the train carnage in which 59 people were killed.”
Pointing to the alleged fake encounters and cases booked under the now repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act, it questioned why every time the minorities had to suffer. “Are you celebrating the pains of the victims or trying to confuse the people by making [a] false claim that the cases against you have been closed?” it asked. “Narendrabhai, you may turn Gujarat into heaven for a handful of rich and powerful. But have you ever peeped into the hell through which we the victims and the community, as a whole, are going through? No, you have not, and we know you have no desire or intention of giving us justice. We, therefore, dismiss your ‘Sadbhavana Mission' as just another publicity stunt,” the letter said.
At the ‘Sadbhavana Mission' venue, the convention-cum-exhibition hall of Gujarat University, the police had to resort to a mild baton charge several times to control the huge rush of people, all trying to gatecrash into the hall. The police said more than 40,000 people had gathered at the venue to enter the hall which has the maximum capacity of 10,000. The police resorted to baton charge when the people refused to stand in the queue, jostling with one another and even with the police.
At the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, Congress leaders Shankarsinh Waghela and Arjun Modhvadia, who were observing a counter-fast, received a steady stream of callers.
Besides the two Union Ministers from Gujarat, Dinsha Patel and Bharat Solanki, Congress workers from different parts of the State called on them. The parents of 23 child thalassemia patients, who were mistakenly injected with HIV-infected blood in the Junagadh civil hospital, called on the fasting leaders and demanded that they intervene and force the State government to pay a compensation of at least Rs. 5 lakh each.
Among the prominent leaders who called on Mr. Modi were Karnataka Chief Minister Sadanand Gowda, BJP national leaders Ananth Kumar, Prakash Javdekar and Shahnawaz Hussain, the former cricketer Navjyot Singh Sidhu, and two BJP Ministers in the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar.