Why everyone tiptoes around memories of 2002 Gujarat riots

Neither the Congress nor the BJP wants to bring up the disturbance during the campaign to avoid communal polarisation

November 28, 2017 10:13 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 10:43 pm IST - Surat/Vadodara

 Forgotten history: Zuber Gopalani, a school owner, says the younger voters do not remember the riots.

Forgotten history: Zuber Gopalani, a school owner, says the younger voters do not remember the riots.

Zuber Gopalani, who runs a chain of schools in Ahmedabad and Vadodara, says he has been silently campaigning against the BJP government in Gujarat, but takes care not to talk about the 2002 riots.

“We have not forgotten it, but today’s voters aged 18 to 20 are too young to remember the 2002 riots,” says Mr. Gopalani, who is an active supporter of the Congress.

 

The Congress, unlike in the previous Assembly elections, skips the topic of the riots in their campaign because of its potential to polarise the electorate. It is a political strategy that has always helped the ruling BJP. That is why from visiting different temples to sporting a tilak, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has run a campaign with a soft Hindutva flavour.

“The BJP tries to create a perception that the Congress is pro-Muslim and then uses it as a tool,” says Ami Ravat, a Congress corporator in Vadodara. Her husband, Narendra Ravat, is the Congress candidate in the Sayajiganj constituency.

Of the 6.5 crore people in Gujarat, Muslims are a little over 9%. Out of the 182 seats, there are 28 across the State where Muslims make up anywhere between 10% to 25% of the population. Only in eight seats, they make up over 30% of the voters.

But the discourse about the minority community in Gujarat’s politics is way beyond the electoral arithmetic. “In our younger days, we had seen how there would be frequent riots and curfews in places such as Ahmedabad at the slightest provocation,” says Vinay Brambhat, a Vadodara-based businessmen and staunch BJP supporter.

In the 1980s, during Congress rule, the emergence of underworld don Abdul Latif as a powerful bootlegger and extortionist with political connection further deepened stereotypes.

“For the business community, the most important aspect is law and order. If there is peace, only then business can grow. In the past two decades, law and order has certainly improved,” says the Surat-based hotelier Sanatbhai Relia.

End to “curfew culture”

End to “curfew culture” is also part of the BJP’s 2017 campaign. People like Mr. Gopalani challenge such claims.

“Those who were responsible for imposing curfew are now part of the ruling structure. But Muslims have now realised how to fight on paper. Earlier, on any issue like a morphed picture of the Prophet or the viral Azaan video [a video showing a Hindu girl frightened at a Muezzin’s call], mobs would resort to violence. Now they go to the police station demanding action against the mischief-makers,” Mr. Gopalani says.

“A bootlegger is a bootlegger and it has nothing to do with religion. Why look at it through religion if you do want to make political capital out of it? The BJP is trying to create a phobia that if the Congress comes to power, Muslims will become dominant over Hindus.”

“There seems to be a division among the Hindus themselves. There is a Patidar movement, OBCs are asserting their rights and the Dalits are angry. That is why attempts at polarisation has not succeeded,” says Mr. Gopalani.

No polarisation, says BJP

The BJP dismisses the charge of polarisation. It says Muslim community members are getting close to the party. “When I went to file my nomination, people in the Muslim-dominated neighbourhood Machchipeth welcomed me warmly. Since our government came, curfews have ended and it has also helped them prosper,” says Yogeshbhai Patel of the BJP, who is hoping to become an MLA for a seventh term.

On the ground though, for youngsters like Nasser Memon, a B.Com. student of MS University, it’s issues such as affordable education and job opportunities that matter more. “I would like our leaders to talk about education, health and employment,” he says.

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