The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shunned Godhra waits for polling day

Godhra, Dec. 7: No one comes to Signal Falia.

For a hamlet branded the fountainhead of the Gujarat carnage, the colony behind the Godhra railway station is remarkably quiet in what usually should be the cacophonous hour of any election campaign.

Signal Falia — from where the mob that reportedly burnt the train coach on February 27 originated — betrays few signs that it has contributed another entry in the country’s political lexicon and a poll plank —Godhra.

The only pointer to an election just a week away is a banner put up by the local Congress candidate, Rajendrasinh Patel. That is all.

Signal Falia has become the ghost town of election-bound Gujarat and fallen off the campaign maps of all parties.

As the BJP candidate, former Bajrang Dal national vice-president Haresh Bhatt, does not expect any Muslim to vote for him, campaigning is considered futile in minority-dominated localities like Signal Falia, Polan Bazar, Vijapur Road and Nichvas.

The Congress candidate, too, is not canvassing in the area. He was told not to campaign in Muslim areas as that could polarise the votes further.

Some local Muslim leaders like Maulvi Omar and Yusuf Charkha have reached an agreement with the Congress that they would support the party.

But the Muslims are also sceptical about Patel who, they claim, joined the mob that looted and burnt hotels on highways during the riots.

The Muslim leaders, however, say that the Congress candidate has apologised. Moreover, they point out, party chief Sonia Gandhi has promised them in writing that if her party is voted to power, it will take action against the rioters, provide shelter to the homeless and release innocent people whom the BJP government has put behind bars.

In Godhra, headquarters of Panchmahal district, Muslim voters number about 42,000 — over 21 per cent of the electorate in the constituency.

Signal Falia’s residents are sore that they still have to carry the stigma that they attacked kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya and sparked the worst communal riots in recent memory.

They are constantly reminded of the blot, not by non-existent posters but by stickers and T-shirts — purportedly sponsored by the BJP’s supporters. Emblazoned on the alternative campaign material is a searing slogan: “We will not let this place become another Godhra.”

“The BJP is insulting us,” says Nasir Pathan, a shopkeeper in Nichvas. Despite the apparent indifference, the Muslims of this town will vote to the last man.

“You take it from me, 100 per cent Muslim voters will vote this time. It will be a record. We have created a team of volunteers who would ensure that no Muslim stays at home on December 12,” says Maulvi Hussain Omar.

Going by the BJP’s eagerness to exploit the train carnage, Godhra should be a cakewalk for its candidate who is being projected as a “national leader”.

But the ground realities, caste equations and the prevailing resentment among local party workers are something the Sangh parivar should be worried about.

As it is, the BJP has never been a strong force in Panchmahal district. Of the seven Assembly seats here, the BJP had won just two in the last elections. Bhatt is fighting several adversaries. He is an “outsider” who does not have any local support base in rural areas where the decisive battle will be fought.

Besides, Bhatt’s utterances that he would bulldoze Polan Bazar and turn it into a cricket ground have only helped Muslims sink their differences.

Bhatt has to explain at every meeting that he is not a “foreigner” like Sonia but a national leader. Like any national leader, “I can contest from any constituency,” he has been telling the people of Godhra.

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