Ode (Anand), Sept. 25: On a patch of land where over two dozen Muslims were massacred 10 years ago in this little town of 20,000 people in the heart of Gujarat’s dairy country, a festival was being celebrated.
There wasn’t a trace of remorse on the faces that congregated around a towering idol. They sang odes to the god, eyes shut in collective piety, and then collected the prasad offered by a pujari.
Grabbing land and legitimising the illegal act in the name of religion is routine in India. What turned the Ode deed ghoulish was that on the land where the idol was worshipped stood the home of a small businessman, Ghafoor Khan Akbar Khan.
On March 1, 2002 — two days after the Godhra train burning — a 2,000-strong mob attacked Khan’s house. They set it on fire and burnt alive 26 people, including children, who had taken shelter.
Khan’s residence was razed to the ground. In less than two years, Ode’s Hindus occupied the land to celebrate community festivals.
In April 2012, a special court in Anand, the district headquarters, convicted 23 people for the massacre.
Did the Hindus ever lose sleep, reliving the excruciating moments the victims would have passed through? “Well, God didn’t spare the killers, they are in jail. That’s good enough,” said Shailesh Patel, a college student who was in middle school when the carnage took place.
The deep-seated religious divide is reflected in the political proclivities. Ask a Hindu, and the answer is his “hero” is “Modi sahib” (Narendra Modi). “He’s a legend,” exclaimed Surendrapal Desai, a trader. “We want to see Modi as India’s bada pradhan (Prime Minister).”
Through the rural and semi-rural swathes covered in the travel in Anand and the tribal-heavy Panchmahal and later in north Gujarat, the fundamentals of Modi’s politics were apparent: a communal underpinning with an overlay of “development” that ensures that barring the Muslims and some people in the weaker classes like the Vagharees (most backward castes) and Dalits, the others continue to be BJP votaries.
“In the last two years, Modi saw to it that despite the monsoon shortfall, our fields were irrigated, we got our usual yields of cotton and jowar,” said Savji Manjhi Chipad, a farmer in Bhabhar village, Banaskanta district.
If Modi’s rural inroads should worry the Congress, the party has reasons to smile a bit. There is general consensus that BJP rebel Keshubhai Patel, who has formed his own party, could damage the BJP in 10-15 seats in Saurashtra. If Modi has to recompense the deficit, he would have to pull out all the arrows in his quiver to consolidate the Dalits, tribals and backward castes.
Many think it’s a tall order.