Ahmedabad, Sept. 19: Narendra Modi’s Gaurav Yatra — which has Gujarati asmita (self-pride) and swabhimaan (self-respect) as its thematic leitmotifs — meant different things for different people.
For Deepak Shantilal, the secretary of the city’s textile hub, the New Cotton Market, it was the “only way of countering the concerted attempts made by the English press and TV channels to project our state in a negative light”. “We want to tell the rest of the country and the world, Gujarat does not need your money but don’t highlight events in a wrong way,” pleaded the textile wholesaler.
For Bipin Patel, a middle-rung executive in a local firm, it was a “gimmick”, “a clever politician’s way of consolidating his vote base before an election”.
Industrialist and Ficci office-bearer Girish Dani remarked: “I don’t consider it a gaurav yatra because it has not settled any issue, for better or for worse. The one solid achievement Modi is flaunting throughout the yatra is giving Narmada water to people for the first time. People should remember the spadework was done by Chimanbhai Patel (a former chief minister) and others are merely reaping the fruits.”
Despite the nuanced differences in perception, the one objective factor Shantilal, Patel and Dani agreed upon was that their state was in the doldrums. “The biggest proof of this is in the local papers. Even the pro-BJP papers are forced to report that on an average, daily two or three families are committing suicide. Entire families — father, mother, children. The reason is they have no money, their savings have been used up, loans have to be repaid and business has come to a halt since the riots last March. Rather than being humiliated by loan sharks, they prefer to hang themselves from the ceiling,” said Patel.
The Congress was quick to capitalise on the suicides. It has plastered Ahmedabad with photos of families hanging from ceiling fans with the slogan: “Is this what Gujarat gaurav is about'” Congress MLA from Sabarmati Narhari Amin maintained there were 80 suicides in just a month. “The suicide notes say most of them did it because they lost everything in business,” he said.
According to Dani, Gujarat’s economic decline started with the 2000 cyclone, followed by the earthquake in 2001 and capped by the communal violence. “In between, many cooperative banks like Madhavpura and Laxmi went bust and that hit small traders and businessmen very hard,” he said.
A point which even a self-professed BJP supporter like Shantilal conceded. “In the cloth trade, 99 per cent of the workforce in the process houses are Muslims. My business was closed during the three months that Ahmedabad was in flames. Today, the markets are open but there is no business.”
Automobile garages and construction business, too, were badly hit for the same reason. “Ninety-nine per cent of those who repair cars and construct buildings are Muslims. Many have left the city,” he rued. He admitted to discomfort at Modi’s remarks about Muslims “breeding in large numbers” by citing the example of “long queues of children seen repairing tyre punctures”.
Although a representative of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry claimed that none of the 104 MoUs signed by overseas companies before the violence was affected, industry sources said two major collaborators had pulled out.
Industry sources also admitted that Gujarati NRIs — the largest of the overseas Indian ethnic settlers — were unhappy with Modi’s record of governance. An industrialist said: “When I was in the US in August for a couple of days, many NRIs called on me to say that the BJP must be dislodged. Gujarat’s image, they said, had gone down badly in the US. Even Musharraf shouted in the UN Assembly. Dry fruit merchants, mostly Gujaratis, said their supplies from Iraq, Iran and Singapore had stopped.”