Ahmedabad: “There hasn’t been an election when BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leaders do not recall the 2002 riots,” Jamaalbhai, a carpenter in the Muslim-dominated Juhapura in Ahmedabad said.
“We have learnt to live with it,” he added.
Jamaalbhai was responding to Amit Shah’s speech made on November 25 when the Union home minister claimed that the anti-Muslim riots in 2002 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister ensured “permanent peace” in the state.
“They tried to create a problem for Narendra Bhai but he taught them such a lesson that they have not dared to do anything till 2022. But after they were taught a lesson in 2002, these elements left that path (of violence). They refrained from indulging in violence from 2002 till 2022. BJP has established permanent peace in Gujarat by taking strict action against those who used to indulge in communal violence,” Shah declared at an election rally.
Like Jamaalbhai, most others in the locality expressed no surprise over the BJP’s sudden invocation of the 2002 riots in the last leg of the campaign. BJP leaders mostly anchored their canvassing around Gujarati sub-nationalism and development claims before turning full circle to remind the state’s voters about the “security of the Hindus” and how anti-social elements (read Muslims) were shown their place in 2002.
Yet, working classes among Muslims are preoccupied with their livelihood concerns and all-around discrimination faced by the community in Gujarat.
“The BJP thinks by raising such issues, it will be able to deflect attention from their failures in governance and consolidate their traditional voters among the Hindus on an anti-Muslim plank,” Jamaalbhai said.
“But look at me and others. I opened my shop at 9 am. It is almost noon but I haven’t earned anything,” he said.
“Our incomes have come down over the last decade even while prices of everything have become steep,” he said, adding that he used to get Rs 300 for fixing a door in a house but gets a meagre Rs 70 these days.
“Competition has increased and people are not willing to pay,” he said.
Irfan, a fruit and vegetable seller in the area, said that his earnings are anywhere between Rs 6,000 and Rs 8,000 per month. “We are three brothers and each of them sells vegetables and fruits. But our earnings have remained the same.”
The stagnant incomes have taken a toll on both Jamaalbhai and Irfan. “The majority of the community lives in penury. There hasn’t been a happy Eid for us in years. Our children were forced to leave their education and take up work,” said Jamaalbhai.
“The government schools do not function well. Muslim children are also not treated with respect in schools. If I send my three children to a private school, it will cost me around Rs 8,000. With my earnings, it is not an option,” he said.
Both Jamaalbhai and Irfan claimed that the BJP legislator from Vejalpur constituency has never visited Juhapura in the last five years. “You can see for yourself the congested lanes, unplanned roads and sewerage of the area. But we never had much hope from the BJP. All the buildings you see in the area are privately built,” said Jamaalbhai.
Irfan believed that the BJP legislator is constrained because of his party’s anti-muslim politics. “If the MLA thinks of getting some development work done in the area, he may risk losing his Hindu votes which are in a majority.”
“The Vejalpur election has always been Hindu-Muslim (a colloquial phrase for communal politics). The BJP needs to consolidate a majority of Hindu votes to win from the constituency,” Irfan said.
Majoritarian aggression and all-around discrimination against Muslims have been a constant for people living in Muslim ghettoes of Ahmedabad like Juhapura, Rakhial, Sarkhej and so on. “The police treat us with suspicion, the schools also do not entertain our children, the traffic police is also stricter with us than the Hindus,” said Irfan.
“They say that riots have stopped which is good. They (BJP leaders) were the ones who engineered the riots. Now that they are in power, they don’t do that. What about our livelihood issues and the constant state of insecurity in which we live in the state. Does this mean that ‘permanent peace’ as Amit Shah claims,” Jamaalbhai said.
Gazala, a social worker who works in the education sector, told The Wire that barring a small section of the middle classes and rich, most Muslims in Gujarat are living in miserable conditions. “They are forced to leave their education, start work at a very early age, and live under the cloud of fear. The community is constantly stressed about coming to terms with being second-class citizens in their home state,” she said.
“This is the Gujarat model that is now being replicated across India,” she added.
Discrimination against Muslims has been institutionalised in the state, said Kalim Siddiqui, an activist and journalist based in Ahmedabad.
“There is no separate minority affairs ministry or even a minority commission in the state. The BJP-led government has allocated a budget of a little over Rs 70 crore for minority well-being. One can see how Muslims are treated if we compare it with the budget for Dalits and Adivasis that together is over Rs 4,000 crore,” Siddiqui said.
In its election manifesto, the BJP only upped its ante against Muslims. It promised an anti-radicalisation task force, underlining the Hindutva assumption that only Muslims are being radicalised. It also promised a commission to monitor Wakf Board properties and Madrasas. The opposition parties haven’t said a word, fearing that any comment on the discriminatory promise may alienate the majority community. Yet, the Congress has promised to create a separate minority affairs ministry, while AAP stayed away from addressing the issues given the blatant communal backdrop against which the elections were fought.
“The primary issue for Muslims in a state like Gujarat is security but they have realised that there is no point talking about it. Rather, they want the government to at least address some of their livelihood concerns,” Siddiqui said.
When other leaders followed Shah subsequently in raising the anti-muslim pitch in the run-up to the polls, it wasn’t a surprise for the Muslim community. Discrimination and such aggression have become normal in Gujarat.
“The elections are celebrated elsewhere as the biggest democratic exercise but in Gujarat, we want the elections to end as soon as possible,” said Jamaalbhai, as yet another election in which Muslims became the targets and their concerns remain unaddressed ends.