A quiet anniversary

Published : Mar 28, 2003 00:00 IST

At a Ram dhun meeting of the VHP in Ahmedabad in memory of those who died in the Godhra fire. - DIONNE BUNSHA

At a Ram dhun meeting of the VHP in Ahmedabad in memory of those who died in the Godhra fire. - DIONNE BUNSHA


"I CAN never forget Godhra," thundered Chief Minister Narendra Modi throughout his election campaign. At every election meeting, he played on the public outrage caused by the burning of the Sabarmati Express in order to stir insecurity and communal hate. Yet, he was conspicuously absent at any of the prayer meetings held on the first anniversary of the Godhra incident.

Condolence meetings were held all over Gujarat in memory of the 59 killed in the train fire. Both Hindus and Muslims took part in peace rallies held in Behrampura and Vatva in Ahmedabad. In Naroda Patiya, where the worst violence occurred, Muslim residents held a prayer meeting for those who died in Godhra. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) Ram dhun functions met with a weak response all over Gujarat. VHP international president Pravin Togadia failed to draw crowds at prayer ceremonies in Godhra and Ahmedabad.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which used Godhra as its main election plank, was low key in its celebrations. To evoke communal emotions, the BJP had used election posters with pictures of the burning train, and with the slogan: "Who is for us?" The Sangh Parivar had also distributed T-shirts with a picture of the burning train and the slogan: "I will not let my village become another Godhra". Modi manipulated the fear and the feelings of insecurity following the Godhra tragedy. But the party has conveniently forgotten Godhra after its victory. "Why should we organise anything? There is no need for it now," said a senior BJP politician.

Several riot-affected Muslim areas, such as Salatnagar in Ahmedabad, held prayer meetings for Godhra victims. Gandhians too held memorial meetings for those who lost their lives in the Sabarmati Express. The Shiv Sena called for a bandh in Godhra. It met with a partial response in some parts of the town.

Fearing trouble, the police were kept on alert, in view of not only the Godhra anniversary on February 27, but also the India-Pakistan cricket match on March 1. The commemoration remained peaceful. But after the cricket match, one boy was killed and 12 others were injured in Shahpur, Ahmedabad.

THERE is still a fragile peace in the State. Anything can spark trouble. Even after the election results were announced on December 15, 2002, Gujarat has seen several small incidents of communal violence.

Narendra Modi, who allowed Sangh Parivar mobs to go on the rampage after the Godhra incident, is now trying to portray himself as the Chief Minister who means business. More so since he got into a spat with the country's top industrialists in February. At a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) meeting in New Delhi, Rahul Bajaj and Jamshed Godrej asked Modi about the sense of insecurity in Gujarat. Godrej suggested that Modi "create a proper business environment in Gujarat by taking care of all sections of society". An angry Modi replied, "You and your pseudo-secularist friends can come to Gujarat if you want an answer. Gujarat is the most peaceful State in the country. The CII has been unfair to Gujarat. There is no need to give Gujarat a bad name." Later in the month, he snubbed the CII by not showing up for a CII meeting in Ahmedabad, though he had earlier confirmed that he would attend it. Instead, he sent a statement blaming the CII for "insulting five crore Gujaratis".

Narendra Modi is desperately trying to put his gory past behind him, to exorcise the ghosts of his Godhra campaign. But public memory is not as short as he thinks.

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