The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Focus on cow, caste at Modi’s next stop

Ahmedabad, Sept. 13: Narendra Modi may be short on substance but not on symbolism.

His choice of venues to kick-start the various phases of his Gaurav Yatra confirms this. If Phagvel — from where the first lap started — was meant to resurrect the violent lore of how “Islamic invaders” plundered Gujarat’s cattle and how a Kshatriya chieftain took them on to present the Muslims as “enemy” and let Congress’ Kshatriya leader Shanker Sinh Vaghela know his kinsmen were with the Hindus against the “enemy”, Zanzarka is equally potent.

This little village, about 100 km from Ahmedabad on the Saurashtra Road, may not figure on Gujarat’s commercial map but it’s a major pilgrim centre for its Dalits. While the Congress is straining every nerve to wean away the Dalits from the Hindutva stream — into which many were coopted during the communal violence — Modi’s message is they were part and parcel of the BJP’s larger ideology that sought to subsume caste into a pan Hindu identity.

Zanzarka fits the bill. Folklore has it that in the early nineteenth century, when a group of famished Krishna devotees passed through the village after a visit to Dwarka, they stopped for a meal. A local Dalit sant, Savaiyanath, fed them and the Brahmins granted a boon that the granaries of Zanzarka would overflow, come drought or famine.

But his munificence is evidently not the only attribute to endear Zanzarka’s Dalit sant to Modi. From his viewpoint, he was also a “gau bhakt”, a worshipper of cow, and to this day, the temple that deified him has a special puja for cow. The villagers have also set up gau shalas or cow shelters.

After the controversy over his anti-Sonia and anti-Muslim statements in the first round of the yatra, it was expected that Modi would be more “temperate”. “But that will not stop him from speaking against cow slaughter. And if it hurts some people, nothing can be done,” declared a close aide.

Finance and revenue minister Nitin Patel was not sure if Modi could be checked. “A political leader goes by how people respond and not what the press and intelligentsia think. You will know what I mean when you see the crowd at his yatra tomorrow. In front of them, you cannot expect a leader to say just goody-goody things. He will have play to the gallery,” said Patel.

Yatra convener Jasabhai Barot, however, insisted Modi would be proper this time: “Whatever he has said or not said in the past is a forgotten chapter. Let us look ahead. The chief minister will speak of quami ekta (communal harmony), samajik samarasta (social harmony), surakshit Gujarat (a safe Gujarat) and a vikassheel Gujarat (progressive Gujarat). He will also counter the charge that the state’s image has been damaged by dwelling on how it has produced two of India’s tallest leaders — Patel and Gandhi,” Barot claimed.

BJP sources admitted that Barot is on the defensive as the National Commission for Minorities took note of Modi’s statements. The commission’s demand from the Gujarat chief secretary that it should be shown the full text of Modi’s yatra speeches evidently sent the government into a tizzy. It has no recorded evidence, visual or written.

“Our mandate is to ensure the chief minister’s security and not monitor his speeches. This yatra is a political one, planned by the BJP and not the government. So we cannot be held accountable for what he says,” said a senior official.

The state home department is depending on the local BJP for video recordings of the yatra. These could be handed over to the minorities commission.

Strangely, while Barot denied that the yatra was filmed, local BJP sources said it was and the film is being readied for release. But they admitted that portions of Modi’s provocative speeches could be edited out given the controversy surrounding them.

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