The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In passengers’ nightmare thrives a poll mascot

Godhra, Dec. 12: Ramal Vyas, 34, wife Vimla, 30, and son Dilip, 8, are here. At 1 in the afternoon, they have come on a scooter, Vimla and Dilip riding pillion, to see the burnt S6 coach of the Sabarmati Express. There is no one else around. The family lives in a village off the road to Vadodara.

Abhi bhi dekhney se dar lagta hai (Even now I feel scared just looking at it),” says Vimla. The S6 and its companion S5 are in a yard of the Godhra railway station. The S5 is untouched, looks just like any other three-tier coach on any other train.

Inside the S6, the sun filters through its 21 windows, lighting up parts of the floor. The floor is a charred, sooty, black plane. The half-side of the floor that is farther away from the end to which the S5 is hitched by vestibule, is eaten away, its skeletal wooden frame is exposed. In the nearest compartment, an aluminium plate is half sunk into the ash and the garbage.

A piece of yellow cloth and another in red are also in the piles on the gangway. Nearly 10 months later, they are unlikely to be remains of passengers. Those would have been taken away by the forensic people and others.

The ceiling is completely burnt out, the slots where the fans were fixed are like gouged-out eyes. What is left of each bench is mangled iron framework, and pieces of coir and poor quality cotton. The vestibule has been eaten away by the fire. Straggles of rubber hang loosely. Rubber smells a long, long time after it is burnt.

Outside, the signs of the fire stop just below the line of windows. The colour in the lower half of the coach has not been scorched away. The underbelly of the coach, its wheels, suspension, axles are intact.

“Let alone all this talk of terrorism,” says Ramal. “Just look at this and think that you and I travel by train so many times.”

If all of Gujarat is to look at the S6 of the Sabarmati Express like a railway passenger, the least that can be said is Narendra Modi will win this election by a landslide. Ramal himself has not voted.

“I do not know and I am confused but now that I have seen this, I can say it can be a powerful image. But God knows what happened. It is difficult to see what will drive people to do this. But let me tell, from where I come, near Dhanura village, the Muslims were burnt and driven out. Gujarat is in bad days.” Ramal comes from a landed family and is now employed as a clerk in a branch of the Bank of Baroda.

Narendra Modi’s Hindutva appeal with this image of S6 as its centrepiece is cacophonic in the campaign for these elections but it is doubtful how well heard it has been in a radius of 3 km from here.

The BJP’s candidate, Haresh Bhat, who headed the state unit of Bajrang Dal and was its national vice-president, is contesting a battle that he can hope to win with some luck.

Just beyond the railway yard, on the other side in Signal Falia from where the mob had attacked the train, the scene will be most disheartening for him.

In the booth at the Kutchery Godown, the only one for the ghetto of Signal Falia, there is a throng of Muslim voters. There are 1,300 voters listed.

By 1 pm, says the presiding officer, Vinod M. Buria, 536 have voted. There are two queues outside the single booth, one for men, the other for women and each is jostling, pushing, pressing. Sabera Suleman Kalandar is in one with three daughters.

“I was in the jungles for seven days. I don’t belong here. We fled. My son Ramzani Suleman was burnt alive.”

One estimate says there are 32,000 Muslim voters in Godhra constituency which has an electorate of about 1.95 lakh. In 1998, the Congress won a turnout of about 40 per cent with a margin of about 15,000. This time the turnout is significantly higher.

In the town, Dr Pandya, head of the Gujarat doctors’ cell of the party who is monitoring polling in the constituency, says, “We expect 65 to 70 per cent polling this time.”

In the booth near the party’s office in Panjrapole, polling is nearly 50 per cent by 1 pm. “Muslim turnout is always high. Even last time, it was about 80 per cent,” he claimed an unusually high figure.

“We want a 70 per cent Hindu turnout and then we are through.” But the Muslim vote is consolidated.

“There is a 40 per cent OBC, mostly Kshatriya vote. If they stick to us, we are through.” Will they' “I hope so but the Congress is also aware of it.”

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