'The lesson the BJP has to learn from the violence in Gujarat is that once you practise the politics of hate against any community, it will surely get back to you some day,' says Syed Firdaus Ashraf.
In 1990, as a student of Class 12, I was traveling with a friend to Andheri, northwest Mumbai, to inquire about science classes so as to be able to choose a major and decide what to do in the future.
We were very worried about what jobs we would get if we were less qualified than others. After inquiring about the classes, we were walking back to the railway station when an incident occurred that changed my life forever.
As we arrived at the station we discovered thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party workers assembled there, all of them eagerly awaiting the party's then mascot L K Advani to arrive.
Advani was touring India in his rath, appealing to Hindus to join the movement to build a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid stood in Ayodhya, where devout Hindus believe Lord Ram was born aeons ago.
My friend and I waited to hear Advani speak. I was 18 and had very little idea about politics.
Before Advani began his speech, some speakers unleashed venom against Muslims, blaming the community for not giving up its claim to the land where the Babri Masjid stood. One speaker termed all Muslims 'Babar ki aulad' (children of Babar, the first Mughal emperor in whose name, as I pointed out in an earlier column, that the Babri Masjid was built).
What hurt me most was not that they were abusing Muslims, but that they were doing so with a huge poster of Lord Ram in the background.
My connection to Lord Ram was through Ramanand Sagar's enormously popular television serial Ramayan and occasional visits to temples with Hindu friends. I always believed Lord Ram to be a loving person and actor Arun Govil superbly essayed the part in the television serial. I did not miss a single episode of Ramayan.
But here, in 1990, I was being shown Lord Ram as someone whom I could not associate with. And it was only because of the BJP and Advani's campaign in Lord Ram's name.
As I left Advani's rally after about an hour I took away an important lesson. Indian Muslims would have to live with the unfortunate tag 'Babar ki aulad.' Even if they wanted to forget it and move on, BJP leaders like Sakshi Mahraj and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti would keep reminding them about it, even in 2015.
On Tuesday, August 25, when I saw the Patel community agitating for reservations in huge numbers, I could not believe they were taking on the mighty BJP in Gujarat.
Intrigued, I met a Patel I knew to find out more about the issue. With great confidence he declared that without the support of the Patels, the BJP is finished in Gujarat.
I asked why the Patels, who are known to be an affluent community, are keen on reservations. Reservations were important for the Patels, he said, because many, including him, had suffered because of the policy.
Every government in Gujarat, he added, had taken Patel votes for granted. He said he had to move to another city to join an engineering college because he missed the merit list in the college in his home town by a few marks.
"If there was reservation for Patels, I would have got admission in the college near my home. Other communities took advantage of reservations whereas we Patels were left behind," he pointed out.
It was a myth that all Patels are affluent, he insisted, because there are many poor Patels, several of them farmers. Some Patels do odd jobs.
Then he stunned me. The Patels, he said, are descendants of Lord Ram.
There are, he said, two types of Patels: Leuva Patels and Kadava Patels. While Leuva Patels are descendants of Luv, Kadava Patels are descendants of Kush -- Lord Ram's twin sons.
How could the BJP treat the children of Lord Ram so badly, he wanted to know.
My mind went back to that rally 25 years ago when the BJP misused Lord Ram's name for political gain.
Today, Lord Ram's descendants (the Patel community) are teaching the BJP a lesson it will not forget in Gujarat.
When I was asked to cover the 2012 Gujarat assembly election, I turned down my editors' request, saying the BJP and its then chief minister Narendra Modi would win and there was nothing new to report.
I had covered the 2002 Gujarat assembly election after the post-Godhra riots and the 2007 elections. In both elections, the BJP and Modi's strategy was to spread fear among the state's Hindus about the 'Miyans' -- Muslims -- and win.
In the 2002 election, held after the Akshardham temple terror attack, the election was fought between Musharraf Miyan (then Pakistan army chief and president Pervez Musharraf) and the BJP. Everywhere you went, you heard speeches full of 'Musharraf Miyan' or just 'Miyan'.
In 2007, there was the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Neither jobs nor development nor any other economic issue featured in the BJP's election campaign -- just the fear of Miyans.
In 2012 I felt the Miyan issue would be highlighted yet again.
When Modi desisted from using the 'M' word at at an election rally I watched on television, I was startled for a bit, but Modi returned to type, with his 'Ahmed Miyan' taunts aimed at Congress leader Ahmed Patel.
The lesson the BJP needs to learn from the Patel community's agitation and the subsequent violence is that once you practise the politics of hate against any community -- dubbing them with epithets like 'Babar ki aulad' or taunting them with 'Miyan' -- it will surely get back to you some day.
I am sure Lord Ram will agree. After all, Lord Ram is all about love, not hate.
IMAGE: Members of the Patel community climb a police vehicle during a protest rally in Ahmedabad, August 25. Photograph: Amit Dav/Reuters