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Tough call: rioters or onlookers

Ahmedabad, April 9: Rais Khan Pathan does not have a problem helping and healing riot victims, no matter how bad the wounds are. But ask him which party you should vote, and he would be caught between the devil and the deep sea.

Ever since the poll bells have started tolling, that’s the one question that has assailed the rights activist over and over. Several minority victims of the post-Godhra riots have been asking him to play messiah again, this time with political lessons.

“Who should we vote for: the rioters or the spectators'” asked Divan Hussain Shah, a resident of Kevath village in Anand district. For him, the BJP and the VHP were the rioters and the Congress, the silent spectators.

In a letter to Pathan, Shah said he was not the sole person looking for answers. Practically all Muslims belonging to the Bohra, Malek, Divan and Sheikh communities in the central Gujarat district thought the way he did, were as disillusioned as he and wanted to be shown the way.

“They seek guidance from me and ask me questions to which I have no answers,” a harried Pathan said.

Another letter he got from a Muslim living in north Gujarat voiced similar despair. “When Congress and BJP workers ask us to vote for their parties, I cannot forget February 28, 2002 — the day our people were butchered,” said Yusuf Khan Pathan of Visnagar in Mehsana district. Yusuf lost 11 family members in the riots.

Pathan said the minorities appeared to be desperately trying to make sense of what they thought was an elaborate but meaningless election exercise. Having lived through the riots and their aftermath, they found little to choose between the BJP and the Congress.

But in the riot-scarred areas of Ahmedabad, the tide was a little different. Far from battling with disillusionment, the survivors of Gulbarg Society — now a deserted colony as most people have moved to ghettos in Muslim-dominated areas of the city — did not even look interested in voting. They did not bother with their ballots during the last Assembly elections.

“I do not think they will take the pains to go to Gulbarg to cast their votes,” Pathan said.

The minorities in Naroda-Patia, however, revealed a new face: they looked eager to participate in what their chief minister Narendra Modi called a “festival of democracy”.

“Not that we have forgiven their sins, but we cannot afford to confront them. It’s sheer pragmatism,” said Nazir Khan. About 800 families in Naroda-Patia and its adjoining chawls, and some have been won over by the BJP.

In fact, when Ahmedabad MP and Union minister Harin Pathak campaigned in their locality two weeks ago, many of them came out in saffron scarves to greet him, leaving BJP legislator Mayaben Kodnani open-mouthed.

But Rehman Khan Hussain, a small shopkeeper, called the minority bluff. He whispered saffron scarves or no, in their heart of hearts the Muslims hate the BJP and would never vote for it.

Nazir agreed, saying even he promised Pathak he would vote his party. “I had to say that when he called me and said we should forget the past and he would ensure Muslims were protected.”

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