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Votes of riot-hit: BJP gives up, Cong takes them for granted
Saubhadra Chatterji in Ahmedabad | December 11, 2007 11:30 IST
Standing on the terrace of the charred, skeletal remains of Ehsan Jaffri's home gives you a perfect bird's eye view of Gulbarga Society, a cluster of 20-odd houses that became a happy hunting ground for the mob during the riots of 2002. Jaffri, a former MP, was killed here.
As another Assembly election takes place in 2007, Gulbarga Society is a barren land. All houses are deserted except one -- 40-year-old Aslam is busy repairing a van-rickshaw in front of his single-storeyed house in front of the main gate.
He was away on the day of the mayhem. When he returned, he lost his job with a local businessman. "I was a driver but after I came back in 2003, my employer didn't take me back as I was a Muslim." Aslam, a resident of the area from 1976, used to earn Rs 6,000 before the riots. Now, his repair shop can barely sustain him.
Richer Muslims, particularly those who are running business establishments, also lament that they are being discriminated against. A hotel owner in the minority-dominated Mirzapur area talked about this on condition of anonymity: "If we want to start a business in Naurangpur, Vastrapur or the satellite areas, we need Hindu partners.
"A Muslim venture will face administrative apathy. For months and years, the local authorities will not clear the files."
Employment in the private sector, too, has scanners. Noor Alam, a school principal, says: "For Muslims, their area of residence matters a lot. If he hails from a place like Jhuapura (old Ahmedabad area), it will be difficult for him to get a job."
Barely 5 km away from the Gulbarga Society is the infamous Naroda Patiya, one of the worst-hit areas in the riots. The story of "economic sanctions" repeats itself in many houses in the bylanes of Jawahar Nagar and Hussain Nagar here.
Muhammad Rafiq, like many other riot-affected people, lost his brother. Following the riots, he lost his job as a mechanic, too. He now sells slices of fruits.
The houses in Naroda Patiya have been rebuilt and display IRC (Islamic Relief Committee) numbers. The government has provided electricity and drinking water and the municipality has constructed an all-weather road.
But the life of the Muslims in these parts of Narendra Modi's [Images] Gujarat has not become normal yet.
"Most of these people can't do jobs for Hindu establishments after the riots. They do small-time work," says Nazir Khan, a teacher of a primary school built from donations after the riots.
For the Muslims of the Naroda Assembly constituency, the elections are a desperate effort to show their anger.
"We will vote for the Congress, though our numbers are marginal," says Khan. In the last election, the winner from Naroda was BJP's Mayaben Kodnani, who got more votes than even Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Kodnani, or other representatives from the BJP, never visited these narrow, stinking lanes. They know they will never get votes. The Congress leaders also don't pay attention as they know the Muslims here will vote for them.
Many Muslims like Ishrat or Rafiq complain their names did not appear properly on the voters' list.
Some like Naeembai Faludawala, who lost her mother, two sisters and a sister-in-law in the riots, has no interest in talking about their misery.
"What is the use? Will this chat earn me some money?" she asked and so they were barred from voting in the previous election. "I applied thrice, but every time there was some fault or the other," says Rafiq.
Some of them are vocal about their monetary plight. Nazir Khan had to hide in an underground tank while the frenzied mob looted his house. "I had identified one of them. Whenever I meet him, I tell him he has to return my assets. I couldn't buy another colour TV."