Ahmedabad, Feb. 27: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad marked the first anniversary of the Godhra burnings with prayer meetings, but skipped the locality that counted the highest number of dead in the blaze that set communal fires raging across Gujarat.
Eleven of the 59 victims who died when coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express was torched last February were residents of Janatanagar Ramol, a lower-middle-class area on the outskirts of the city. The VHP chose Khokra and Chandlodia instead, saying that minority-dominated Ramol was too sensitive to organise such programmes.
No senior VHP leader from the city was expected to visit Ramol. This was confirmed by state unit general secretary Dilip Trivedi, who said the outfit had organised a memorial meeting at Ameraiwadi which covers Janatanagar Ramol as well.
Eighty-two-year-old Girish Rawal, a Ramol resident, had a different explanation. Rawal — who lost his wife to the carnage and his son to the riots — said the VHP does not want to hold a prayer meeting in the locality because its leaders know “we are extremely unhappy with them and they just do not want to face us”. Rawal and other family members of the Godhra victims have planned a prayer meeting at the local temple in the evening.
Rawal also slammed the VHP for calling the day Balidaan Divas (martyrs’ day). “A martyr is one who lays down his life for a cause willingly. What happened at Godhra was inhuman and cunning savagery,” he said. Instead, it should be labelled a “black day”.
The day passed off peacefully, though. Despite fears of violence, no incident was reported from anywhere. “The day was peaceful,” said home secretary K. Nityanandam.
In Ahmedabad, amid chanting of Ramdhun, VHP activists held prayer meetings at several places “to remind the people about the dastardly act and to reiterate its resolve to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya”. VHP state joint general secretary Jaideep Patel said such programmes were organised in each district for two hours.
VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia, who addressed a thinly attended meeting in Godhra, said “Hinduism and Jihad cannot coexist” and warned that wherever “Godhra-like incidents” take place, “post-Godhra reprisals will follow”.
The outfit also held a meeting at Lal Tekri, a few kilometres from the Godhra station yard where they had planned the service but was refused permission. Local authorities, however, allowed Togadia and Trivedi to enter the burnt coach and offer sraddhanjali to the victims who were returning from Ayodhya.
The Shiv Sena held a separate programme in Godhra to pay homage to the victims. The bandh call given by the outfit evoked mixed response, with Hindu-dominated localities observing “voluntary bandh” and Muslim areas like Signal Falia, Polan Bazar and Vejalpur defying it.
Shops and business establishments remained open in these areas.
Several non-government organisations and non-BJP social and human rights activists held an all-religion prayer meeting at Gandhi Ashram.