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Seven years later Godhra has moved on
Now, it is just another constituency

Dinesh Kumar writes from Godhra

The badly burnt coach, S-6, of the Sabarmati Express at one end of the railway yard stands in silent testimony to the horrific carnage of February 27, 2002, when over 50 kar sewaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive.

Sailesh Makwana, my 28-year-old taxi driver, whose cousin, 34-year-old Uma Kant Makwana, was charred beyond recognition on that fateful night, stoically peers through the door at the mangled iron that now forms the interiors of the coach. This is his first visit to the ill-fated coach which sparked off the statewide organised rioting that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent Muslims instantly putting Godhra and Gujarat on the international map for the wrong reasons.

In the predominantly Muslim Polan bazaar, also known as mini-Pakistan and located a few hundred metres from the ill-fated coach, 45-year-old Feroze Kesri, a motor bike dealer, has since 2005 been hoisting the Indian flag atop a flag pole located in the centre of a crossing near his shop. “I have been hoisting and lowering the flag every morning and evening ever since former Collector Dinesh Bhrambhatt advised me to do so to dispel the impression that this is a mini-Pakistan”, he explains while professing support for the BJP. “No, I am not expressing my support out of any fear”, says Farooq while detailing how civic amenities like electric and water supply and cleanliness have vastly improved in recent years. “Earlier we had six-hour power cuts. Now we have none”, he says while onlookers listen in silence.

Seven years after the carnage and the subsequent riots, this city seems to have moved on. “Everyone here has forgotten Godhra”, says Babubhai Patel, a staunch Congressman and director of the District Cooperative Milk Federation. “We celebrate Diwali and Id normally”, says Congress district president P.M. Patel. “Both communities take out processions which pass through minority and majority dominated localities. There is no problem”, says 25-year-old Ismail A. Zaba, who works as an administrator in a local paediatric hospital.

Yet, the city’s residential areas remain divided on religious lines with Hindus and Muslims living in separate parts of the city. Sadly, the roads dividing the two regions are referred to as the “border”, sometimes even as “India-Pakistan border”. But people are to be credited for their resilience. Members of both communities move about freely at all hours, whether to the shops and eateries that remain open until late, or to the bus stand located in the Hindu-dominated portion of the city or to the railway station in the Muslim-dominated one.

There is, as yet, no visible signs of electioneering in this city which now falls in Panchmahal constituency. Earlier, it was known as Godhra constituency which has been renamed after the delimitation exercise. For most people, wisdom seems to lie in reticence and few are willing to reveal their preferences.

Interestingly, the president of the Municipal Corporation, Murli Moolchandani, is from the BJP and won with the support of 14 Independent Muslim councillors. “Yes, I voted for the BJP candidate”, says Sajid Kala, a 28-year-old Muslim councillor, who acknowledges that Muslims have otherwise traditionally favoured the Congress during both parliamentary and assembly elections.

The sitting MP from here is Union Minister for Textiles, Shankarsinh L. Vaghela, a Congress leader who is also a former state chief minister and a five-time MP. His BJP opponent, Bhupendrasinh Prabhatsinh Chauhan, lost the 2007 assembly election from Godhra. He belongs to the Baria Kshatriya caste community which constitutes 42 per cent of this constituency’s electorate which has about 10 per cent Muslim votes.

In the 2002 assembly elections held after the riots, the BJP won all seven seats in the Godhra parliamentary constituency. But in the 2007 assembly elections, the BJP could win only three. In the neighbouring Dahod parliamentary constituency, five out of the six assembly seats were won by the Congress in 2007 thus indicating the rising popularity of the Congress in at least this eastern most portion of Gujarat, bordering Maharashtra, which has a large tribal population.

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