The residents of Bhavnagar?s Krishan Nagar holding ?Ram Durbars? outside the bungalow of Bohra Muslim businessman Ali Asghar Zaveri to prevent him from moving in might seem an isolated example, but it is not so. The posh neighbourhood had shot into the headlines after VHP President Pravin Togadia?s video surfaced, urging (presumably) VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres ?to take the law into their hands,? spit on Zaveri, and ?create a riot-like atmosphere?, so that not only does Zaveri not move in but other Muslims get the message as well.
The forced separation of communities in Gujarat is nothing new.?When I was researching my book, I got into a conversation with Muslim taxi driver, Mohammed Ali Saiyad, 48, on way from Ahmedabad airport to Gandhinagar. He told me his brother, who works as an electrician with a private airlines, had bought a two-room flat for Rs 14 lakh in Chhota Chiloda, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, but soon after moving in, the president of the society?s resident association told him he could rent it out to non-Muslims but not himself stay.?That is how it is here, Saiyad said: ?Gujaratis do not sell to Mohemedans and Mohemedans do not sell to Gujaratis.?? Optically, this is supposed to be on account of food habits. That is just a smokescreen for religious prejudice.
The Disturbed Areas Act, enacted in 1991 and expanded after the 2002 riots to prevent distress sale of property and create strong tenancy rights, now covers 40 percent of Ahmedabad. Once a Hindu or Muslim dominated area is declared disturbed, members of the other community cannot buy property there.? Togadia, in the video, is heard urging the Act to the applied to Kishnan Nagar as well, so that religious discrimination can have legal sanction.
On Saturday, 8 February, 2014, Modi inaugurated an exhibition of Muslim businesses in Ahmedabad on the Sabarmati riverfront. The man behind it was Zafar Sareshvala, a luxury car dealer and Modi apologist. The theme was ?business harmony to grow together.? The exhibitors were real estate developers, restaurateurs and car dealers. There was a sprinkling of Hindu businesses as well. The event turned out to be a display of how badly off the Muslim community in Gujarat was.? I was struck by a property portal whose unique selling proposition was? a listing of two dozen apartment complexes in and around Ahmedabad where Muslims were not barred from investing ? a telling commentary on Gujarati society.
This is where BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi claim of ?equal treatment of all and appeasement of none,? rings untrue. If there is one category that has been appeased in Gujarat it is the Hindu conservatives. True, Modi has reined in hotheads in the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, who were challenging his authority or spoiling to curdle the peace.? But the fact that fault lines in Gujarat?s society are getting accentuated is not an advertisement for good governance.? For a government known to be proactive on economic development and also on the social front, like preventing female foeticides or encouraging girl child enrolments, its indifference to bringing communities together is quite palpable.? Hindutva radicals who have infiltrated the government apparatus actively practice discrimination against Muslims, for instance, by denying them municipal services or BPL (below poverty level) cards, says Hanid Lakdawala, a psychiatrist turned community worker.
This is not to suggest that Muslims in Gujarat have receded into the background. On the contrary, they have realized that education is the gateway to a better life. They are investing in education.? And they are becoming visible. Muslims are sporting beards or wearing the hijab to assert their identity.? This has its downside: it makes them stand out rather than blend in.
The BJP had adopted a twin-track strategy in these elections. While Modi talks development, there are news reports of a below the radar campaign to polarize voters.? A former BJP president of Varanasi told me that there are 16,300 booths in the constituency. Each of them has a committee of 20 RSS workers. Each of them are supposed to contact 50 voters a couple of times before polling day on 12 May. Do you think they will be talking economic growth and GDP numbers? If the BJP comes to power will Sangh Parivar activists return to their sleeper cells so that Modi can implement his secular development agenda?
(Vivian Fernandes is an unaffiliated Delhi-based journalist with 30 years of practice, most of it with CNBC-TV18 business news channel. His book, Modi: Leadership, Governance and Performance is available on )
About the author:?
Vivian Fernandes? has been a journalist in Delhi for thirty years. After working with publications like Hindustan Times, The Observer of Business and Politics and India Today, he joined the Network 18 group (CNBC-TV18 CNN-IBN, IBN-7, Forbes India, Moneycontrol.com and Colors), where he was Economic Policy Editor with CNBC-TV18, and Executive Editor of Network 18 founder, Mr Raghav Bahl?s book, Superpower? The Amazing Race Between China Hare and India?s Tortoise, published by Allen Lane, a division of Penguin. For that book, Vivian wrote three chapters on Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, under his own name. He called them India?s Dragon States. Vivian had done a series on governance for CNBC-TV18 for which he had interviewed Modi in 2008. A few months later, Modi was on a programme which Vivian moderated in Baroda. In 2012, Vivian met Modi again for an interview.
Last year, he traveled extensively through Gujarat?s tribal areas on a fellowship from Delhi?s Centre for Study of Developing Societies. This book is entirely self-financed. It has no institutional backing. Vivian studied in St Aloysius College and lives in Kulshekar, whenever he comes to Mangalore, which is pretty often.
For Vivian?s conversation with CNBC-TV18?s Shereen Bhan on the book, broadcast on 11th April 2014, on India Business Hour prime time at 9.30 pm, please click on the link below:
For more details about the book visit?www.orientpublishing.com
Author: Vivian Fernandes