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Peace holds, tension lurks

Ahmedabad, July 28: Ashokbhai Prajapati has been proved wrong for the first time in four decades, and he is glad.

So is Azizbhai Gandhi. But their happiness is tempered by a nagging doubt: what if my prediction finally turns out right?

“The moment I heard about the terror attack, I was sure there would be communal riots. I am surprised (at the peace) to say the least, but we need to be watchful because this city is unpredictable,” said Prajapati, a hardware trader.

The fear and tension in both communities is evident in the skeletal traffic, even two days after the blasts, in city areas that are usually crowded in the daytime.

Ashokbhai’s predominantly Hindu locality, Khadiya, has for years provided the first signs of violence from the majority community. Azizbhai’s Dariyapur neighbourhood has been the weathervane for how Muslims were likely to react.

Both localities, known to be riot-prone, have so far been calm this time. But Azizbhai, a member of Dariyapur’s peace committee, said Muslims in Ahmedabad were “frightened and sad”.

What he didn’t say was that this was particularly disappointing because just a few weeks ago, for the first time in 25 years, the area’s Muslims had welcomed the Jagannath rath yatra into Dariyapur.

Nisar Ansari, secretary of the Jamiat Ulama Gujarat, too had forecast communal violence. “The people have proved the terrorists wrong. I feel the communities have come closer now,” said Ansari, who accompanied Rajya Sabha MP Mehmood Madni to V.S. Hospital to console the injured.

But Ansari conceded that the new “closeness” was paradoxical. For, Hindus and Muslims have physically moved apart after the pogrom of 2002. Perhaps peace has come at the price of ghettoisation.

The two communities once lived as neighbours in Ahmedabad, with the first signs of division visible after the 1969 riots. The politically instigated violence through the 1980s pushed them further apart.

But even after the Babri Masjid demolition, many Hindus and Muslims continued to live in the same localities, such as in Dariyapur and Kalupur. After 2002, however, Hindu and Muslim areas got clearly demarcated.

Azizbhai isn’t sure physical separation is a guarantee of peace. He said community leaders and government agencies should keep a close watch on newly formed localities that lack peace committees but not people capable of mischief.

Even if peace holds, the serial blasts have raised one serious question: have the extremists been able to recruit Gujarat youth?

Officials say the finely co-ordinated explosions — 15 within 15 minutes and then two more an hour later at the city’s biggest hospital — could not have been carried out without local help. If the militants have formed local sleeper cells taking advantage of the post-2002 anger among Muslims, security agencies say, the future could be uncertain.

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