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Home > Election > Report

Shahpur may surprise BJP

Amberish Diwanji | December 07, 2002 13:08 IST

Perhaps the original inhabitant had a sense of humour when he selected the site that would soon become the Bharatiya Janata Party's head office in Ahmedabad.  He chose a place in Khanpur, a predominantly Muslim area of Ahmedabad.

 

On December 6, the building is lit up, just like another new skyscraper behind it. But while the residents of Golden Tower, completed earlier this year, are celebrating Id-ul Fitr, the Din Dayal Bhavan is lit up to showcase the BJP's election preparedness.  In front of the building, Narendra Modi smiles down upon visitors from nine out of ten posters. Only one poster shows a grimacing Keshubhai Patel.

 

A visit to the BJP head-office shows that while physically the rulers and the ruled are next-door neighbours, they inhabit different worlds.

 

The BJP office and the shamianas that have sprung up outside selling election paraphernalia are a riot of saffron with a tinge of green and have the distinct appearance of an enclave. This exclusivity is accentuated by the party's election literature: all of which calls the city Karnawati. Nowhere is Ahmedabad mentioned even once.

 

On the BJP agenda is the demand to change the city's name from Ahmedabad (after Sultan Ahmed Shah, hailed as the founder of the city in the 15th century) to Karnawati, which the BJP insists is what the city was originally called. The Central government has not yet accepted the demand.

 

On the streets outside and in the small shops nearby, groups of Muslim men and women are preparing to end their most important festival of the year.

 

Men and boys in spotless white kurta-pyjamas, women and girls in embroidered, bright coloured clothes, and kids whose new clothes are already dust laden after a day out, move around, eating, chatting, and having fun. Or at least they look like making an effort.

 

The memory of the recent riots is still too fresh, and anxiety palpable. There are policemen at every corner.  Most of them part of the central forces, men brought down from north India to ensure that Gujarat does not burn again as the election day nears.

 

Right behind Din Dayal Nagar, in front of Golden Tower, a group of men is chatting away. I intrude upon their privacy to ask if the celebrations went off well.  "It went off well, and now the day is coming to an end," says Mushtaq Shaikh, a businessman in his late 40s.  And then he adds: "We haven't been wished by a single BJP leader�and they are our neighbours."

 

And what do they feel about the upcoming elections. "Actually, you will now see the Muslims come out and participate in the campaigning. Till now, because of the daily roza  (fasting), Muslims were forced to keep low," he says.

 

Shaikh is convinced that it will not be a walkover for the BJP.

 

I touch the sensitive topic of why Gujarat is so riot-prone. Sitting next to Shaikh is Jatin Shah, who owns a shop in Golden Tower, and he replies angrily: "Believe me, much of the riot news is an exaggeration by the media. You guys love bad news and you play it up."

 

Shah asks how is it that no one in the media thought it fit to report that on the day of Id, Hindus were greeting Muslims and visiting them in their homes. And almost on cue, a passing scooterist stops by and calls out to Shah, asking him why he had not visited him on Id.

 

"See, right here, this friend of mine is actually upset that I did not visit him and has made me promise to visit him on Sunday, which I will. Please make sure you report this in the press, and not just the bad news."

 

Asif Siddiqui, a retired Central government employee, says the Hindu-Muslim divide is not as serious as it is being made out to be. "But unfortunately, the politicians only highlight the divide and not the fact that within this division, Hindu-Muslim unity still exists," he says.

 

The group believes that if there is one aspect that goes against the BJP in this election, it is the fact that the business community, a very dominant force in Gujarat, is extremely upset at the massive losses it has suffered during the months of rioting in March and April.

 

"I think both -- the politicians and the press -- will be surprised by the results," Siddiqui says.

 

When asked why the BJP has won so far in Gujarat, he points out that even the people of Khanpur, which falls in the Shahpur constituency, voted for the BJP all these years.

 

"This constituency has a majority of Muslims, yet the BJP won. It is because the Muslims too voted for the BJP. But then, we voted for Keshubhai Patel, and certainly under him, these ugly riots would never have occurred. The central leadership should not have replaced him," Siddiqui adds.

 

Whether the BJP will win the state or not only time will tell, but winning the constituency where its state head office is located might be difficult.


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