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Mistrust the only thing in abundance in Godhra
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Godhra
If you tell Haresh Bhatt, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Godhra, that the people of the constituency think he is an outsider, all hell would break loose.
"If I am an outsider then who is Sonia Gandhi? I am an Indian and India is my country. Why don't you go and tell Sonia that she is an outsider," asks Bhatt.
Sitting in the district office of the BJP in Godhra, Bhatt, a pot-bellied man with a thick moustache, offers bhajias and gathias [snacks] to visitors and party workers.
"I have given the slogan Aapno Godhra, Raiyon Godhra [Our Godhra is a prosperous Godhra]. There are nearly 1,50,000 Hindus and only 40,000 Muslims in Godhra. But still this town has been maligned as if only Muslims live here," he says.
Bhatt, who campaigns relentlessly, regularly eats Ayurvedic medicines to keep his throat clean. He greets everyone with a 'Jai Shri Ram', even on the mobile phone.
Bhatt says he can give just 10 minutes, as he has to attend a lot of meetings in the constituency. When one of his cronies asks reporters not to write anything negative about his leader, Bhatt gets angry and tells him to keep quiet. "Let them write. They are writing for the English media and they are against us. But the people of Godhra and Gujarat know who is right and who is wrong. They will come to know the results on December 15," he says.
But there are two factors against Bhatt. First, he is a resident of Ahmedabad and considered an outsider, and secondly the sitting legislator, Rajendra Patel of the Congress, is still popular here.
"I challenge Bhatt to recall names of 20 people in Godhra. If he does that I would not contest this election," says Patel in a public meeting.
Patel's personal rapport is such that he won on a Janata Dal ticket in Godhra in the 1998 assembly election. He beat his nearest rival, who was from the Congress, by 12,000 votes. The BJP came a distant fourth.
But Patel also knows that the going is not easy this time, considering the Hindutva wave in the city.
"I am a Hindu but I don't need a certificate from the BJP. These guys are hypocrites and because of their misrule Gujarat has lost its number one position in India," says Patel.
The youths of Godhra grill Patel in a public debate. One of them asks: "Will the Congress release the terrorists who attacked the Sabarmati Express like the J&K government [where the Congress shares power with the People's Democratic Party] is doing?" Patel says, "... I would not like to talk on this issue. But let me tell you that it was the BJP's external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, who took the Jaish-e-Mohammed's chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, to Kandahar [to secure the release of the IC-814 passengers]. Have you ever seen any Congress government giving in to such demands in their 50 years of rule?
"Moreover, let me tell you that the terrorists in J&K are being released only after an approval from [Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand] Advani and the central intelligence agencies," says Patel.
Vasudev Mahendroo, district president of the BJP in Godhra, says, "Patel is fighting a lost war. Everyone knows that the attackers of the Sabarmati Express were Congressmen and there is resentment against them."
Asked if the Muslims of Godhra are angry with the Sangh Parivar because they have been driven out of their villages, he says, "There may be one or two incidents, but you cannot blame the Sangh Parivar for that and it is wrong to generalise such statement. If you go early morning around the villages of Godhra, you would see Muslim farmers bringing grass to sell and the Hindus buying it to feed their cows. So it is wrong to say that Muslims are being driven out."
Another problem for Bhatt is that Gopalsinh Solanki, who was twice a member of the Rajay Sabha, wanted to contest from Godhra, but was denied ticket. He expressed his displeasure but later he supported Bhatt.
There is nothing to talk about in terms of development. The roads are in a bad shape, half the streetlights don't function and there is always shortage of electricity. Communal polarisation and mistrust are the only thing visible.
Ayub Thakur, a farmer from nearby Randhipur village, says it will take a lot of time for him to adjust with Hindus.
"They killed seven of my family members... how do you expect me to trust these people. We are only talking for namesake. I am compelled to stay in a refugee camp after begging. The BJP candidate is saying that if he wins the election, he would demolish all Muslim houses and shops in Signal Falia [Sabarmati Express was attacked near this locality] and develop a cricket ground," says Ayub.
Asked about it, Bhatt says, "This is a complete lie. I never said this. They [Muslims] claim that they don't get water but the fact is that Godhra is not getting water and the present MLA has done nothing to solve this problem," he says.
Amit Vora says, "The Muslims brought down the World Trade Centre in New York... They burnt down the Sabarmati Express, killing innocent people. And when the Hindus retaliate, they complain. After all, how long they want Hindus to tolerate their atrocities?"
Ajay Shah, his friend, says, "English journalists and TV reporters only show Muslims being killed. Why don't they show how Hindus are being butchered by Muslims? Read our history and you will find that we were never the attackers. Hindus are peace loving people and they don't want any dhamal [riots]."
Asked what is more important, they say, "Safety is first and development can follow later."