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Sabarmati minus trusted troops
- Gujarat’s largest recruitment ground turns its back on VHP

Ahmedabad, Oct. 13: When the Sabarmati Express pulled out of Ahmedabad on Friday, cries of “Chalo Ayodhya” rose with ritual precision but none of the passenger lists had any name from Janatanagar-Ramol.

Godhra and its aftermath are telling on Janatanagar, the colony on the outskirts of Ahmedabad that had been to the Gujarat VHP what Punjab is to the Indian Army — one of the most reliable recruitment grounds.

Last year, Janatanagar had sent the maximum number of volunteers to Ayodhya on the same train. It suffered the most, too, when the Sabarmati Express from Faizabad was set aflame on February 27, 2002. Ten of the 58 victims were from the middle-class settlement.

A year later, Janatanagar has slammed its doors on the Ayodhya recruiters. Not one resident of the colony, 12 km from the city, joined the first batch of volunteers who heeded the VHP’s call of “Chalo Ayodhya” on the train.

Most of the residents — the relatives of the victims — can no longer stand the VHP. They cannot forget the last time when the outfit used them as “Hindu victims” to raise money from non-resident Gujaratis but forgot them soon after.

The VHP had promised families of the victims Rs 1,000 each and food ration every month, said Girish Rawal, 82, who lost his wife Sudhaben to the carnage and son Ashwinbhai to the subsequent riots. The 42-year-old son was the family’s only earning member; he was also the local Bajrang Dal chief.

“The VHP sent my wife and others to Ayodhya without tickets and it could not ensure their safety,” Rawal said.

Now, Rawal counts his last days and the days to justice. This he hopes to wrest by going to court and fighting the VHP, which he says has ruined several families with single earning members like his. Rawal fends for his daughter-in-law and granddaughter on his monthly pension.

At a press conference in Mumbai early this month, four men from Janatanagar — including Rawal — sought a ban on all Ayodhya yatras. Rawal recalled the VHP sending some local leaders to persuade him and the others to drop their Mumbai trip, a day before they set out.

“As the VHP got wind that we were going to Mumbai to seek the help of Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace (the NGO that took up Zahira Sheikh’s Best Bakery case), they deputed some city leaders to stop us. But they did not succeed as they had no moral strength to stop us,” Rawal said.

That was not the first time the VHP tried to dissuade them, according to the four from Janatanagar. They had accused the outfit of warning them off the Nanavati Commission, probing the riots.

Rawal is ready with a list of charges against the parishad — of financial corruption, cheating and misleading people in the name of religion.

State VHP general secretary Dilip Trivedi challenged the credibility of Rawal, saying “secularists” have paid him “to use him as a tool against us”.

But Rawal said he was ready to go on trial in court if the VHP can show evidence of him having taken money. “Let them prove it in court.”

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