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|September 2, 1999||
Campaign Trail/ P Rajendran
'There haven't been any conversions for the last two, three months'
The small group standing on the road does not appear very formidable, but it is still annoying to have to stop, and, with the best place possible, hand over a donation for Ganesh Chaturthi.
If the religious reason made you think they would be BJP supporters, they prove you wrong.
''We all vote for the Congress," says Dattubhai Patil, a secretary at the local ration shop at Lavchali, Valsad. He claims the BJP tried every trick to make people think they got a good deal. And since he works at a ration shop, he thinks of a commodity he is familiar with.
"They made rice Rs 5 a kilo and permitted three kilos to a ration card," he says. "But they then raised the price of salt, wheat and petrol to cover the cost," he says. Perhaps Patil does not quite qualify as an impartial judge since his father is a Congressman. But the rest of the curious onlookers quickly shake their heads in agreement.
They all murmured reasons why they would not vote for BJP, the strongest being that they have always been voting for the Congress. "Maniklal Chowdhury has never shown his face here," says Subhash Chowdhury. "Why should we vote for him? He has done nothing."
Patil pipes in with a reason his father would appreciate. "The BJP differentiate on the basics of religion and caste." This time too, there is general agreement, though the people are not so sure now.
But would it not help if the BJP starts backing Hindus? After all, they are Hindus, aren't they? The crowd shuffles again and there are some sheepish grins. Patil laughs in embarrassment and them comes back with some promises that Maniklal Chowdhury has not kept -- a road from the village behind, good water supply, power... ''We hope the Congress will be better,'' says Subhash Chowdhury.
Sinabhai, the deputy sarpanch at Subir village, a few kilometres down is certain the BJP is the right choice. He himself is a BJP man. Subir is the village where the vehicles of some Jesuits missionaries were burnt.
According to Father M V Anthony, "things have cooled down -- externally..." He says his school escaped attack only due to the protection the police provided. "They were impartial," he nods.
According to another priest, the only way to make any headway is by adopting the local culture. And even then they cannot quite know if the local adivasis agree with them.
''You can be a guest, that is all," says Father Anthony. The locals are very poor, growing maize for food and cutting sag tree -- with permission from the forest department. Many locals go to work in the sugarcane plantations in the neighbouring Surat district. Some get work in government development projects -- which are regular, but not permanent. A good percentage of their earnings go into buying the local drink they like.
The government is trying to preserve the local culture, essentially by discouraging the building of concrete structures, which though more secure and less dependent on regular maintenance, hardly have the quaint character of the surprisingly sturdy homes of the tribals. Made of woven matting coated with cow dung and propped up by stout logs, they can be surprisingly commodious too. Some tribals also dust the walls with chalk after first placing a cut-out of some animal or god.
The bright sparking new church at Mukhod may be an eyesore for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, but it is a big improvement on the previous structure that passed for a church there.
Father Yewaji Lakshman Waymare of the Church of North India lives in a house which you have to go up a winding path to reach.
His daughter arises in some confusion at your arrival and shouts to her father.
Father Waymare is correcting some children's books apparently in the small shed he has built for players there. It is neat and clean, and though there is plenty of place, everyone falls over themselves to offer each other a seat. The priest is old and rather bent. Language and old age ensure he cannot easily grasp the conversation.
You have to slow down considerably. But it still takes a translator to help cross the gap. Unlike the other priests, he admits having told his flock to vote for the Congress. But he says he will allow no violence. The government is there ... he says.
Asked if conversions still occurred, quite innocently he replies in the affirmative. Asked again, he still say yes. ''But there haven't been any for the last two or three months," he said.
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