In India, Narendra Modi is the talk of the “town” these days – be it for all the right – or wrong reasons. He may well end up being India’s new Prime Minister less than a year down the road.
I would, however, like to share a few thoughts, my personal experiences, on how deep-rooted a divide is between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat State, where NaMo, as he called now, comes from.
For two years, starting immediately after the Babri Mosque demolition and later riots in Gujarat, I was workingin Ahmedabad, the state capital.
I landed at Kalupur station on New Year’s Day 1993, just about three weeks after the mosque came down, straight into a curfew and walked to the office escorted by policemen and Hindu vigilantes who roamed the streets looking for “prey.”
A day later, I saw a stabbing where a young Muslim boy attacked a Hindu gentleman and ran into the lanes and by lanes of Teen Darwaza, police in hot pursuit.
I thought I had seen enough but a few days later. there was this incident where a respected Muslim elder was brutally stabbed, burnt and his burning body thrown out of his high-rise apartment in a posh Ahmedabad neighbourhood.
Things soon settled down and life became normal but as I worked on the News team, I increasingly became aware I was the only ‘neutral’ soul in the entire office, possibly the journalist fraternity – and could move around freely all over the city, sometimes with the family on a two-wheeler – and not be scared.
No Hindu dared go into the Muslim-dominated areas and no Muslim ventured into the Hindu areas. The motto was, stay away if possible! Such was the polarisation and it baffled me.
Two incidents in my office also proved beyond doubt there are daggers drawn between the two sides.
Once, I was accused by Hindu staff of having helped a “mian” – used in a derogatory sense for a Muslim – when I put in a word on his behalf to a police officer friend and at another time, a Muslim colleague accused me of being soft on a Hindu who had sought, and received, my help in another matter.
As far as I was concerned, I had only helped colleagues and taken some advantage of my position as a crime reporter who had friends in the city’s police force. But these incidents rattled me.
I became increasingly skeptical of both sides, a feeling that was re-inforced when the annual rath yatra took place.
The two camps were sure the other would start trouble and trigger disturbances but when nothing happened, the peace was attributed to the “strict steps” the government had taken.
But, yes, as the procession passed through Muslim areas, the participants refused water and snacks from some who had set up stalls to serve the devout.
Some among the processionists also appropriately changed their chants as they went through to give a ‘message’ to the minority community.
All this was devastating and deeply distressing.
Now, more than 20 years later, I have heard, things are better and there are now no regular riots.
But we have had a Godhra and a Gulbarg Society and an Ishrat Jahan as well as some smaller skirmishes since.
But, now, “Hindu Nationalist” Modi is going around the country espousing his merits as a leader and an administrator.
Has he changed? Has Gujarat changed? Will the country change?
Is India ready for a Prime Minister from a state that is so heavily polarised? Have the wounds healed? Have those times been forgotten? What if there are more Godhra’s? More Ishrats? And what will happen when every other person is looking over his or her shoulder all the time?
The Indian voter has to look at all that – and more – before he takes a decision on who is fit to rule.
The tragedy, however, is the Congress has done so much of so little in the last decade, what choice are we left with?
God, not Modi, Manmohan or Sonia, can help us.