By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: The three-day fast of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, which concluded this Monday (September 19), has raised many eyebrows as well as questions. It is difficult for secular observers and critics to accept reasons given by Modi for his Sadbhavna (goodwill) fast, aimed towards â€œpeace, unity and harmony.â€ Modi apparently has taken this step with the hope that its political importance and media coverage will help change his own image from that of a communal, extremist to a secular Indian who believes in development of all. In his words: â€œEvery chief minister has a national role. My work is to do something good on Earth. It is for others to give it words.â€
Dismissing â€œnewsâ€ about this fast being a reflection of ambition to become the countryâ€™s prime minister, Modi said: â€œI want to tell the world that sabka saath, sabka vikas (cooperation of all, development of all) is the way of development. Gujarat has got a name in development. I have worked for development of all. I have given this an ideological base.â€
The three-day fast has certainly helped Modi gain substantial media-coverage and socio-political attention. Yet, except for his own political colleagues, the others are not willing to believe Modiâ€™s claims about development of â€œall.â€ Besides, three days, even three decades, are not sufficient to forget the 2002 Gujarat-carnage, when the state government failed to provide adequate security to Muslims who were targeted by right-winged elements linked with saffron brigade, with which Modi is also strongly associated. The wounds of Muslim sufferers have not healed yet and will never heal for those who lost their near and dear ones and possessions. The sufferers have not yet received any compensation. There has been no news of Gujarat government having played even a minor role in rehabilitating the troubled Muslims. The criminals have not yet received adequate punishment. In other words, justice and prospects of a better future in Gujarat still remain dismal for Muslims who faced the 2002-carnage.
Despite Modi having begun his fast on his birthday (September 17), he claimed: â€œI have never celebrated my birthday. This is the only day of the year I donâ€™t meet anyone, I donâ€™t talk to anyone, I donâ€™t celebrate my birthday. But because Saturday and Sunday was convenient, thatâ€™s why I chose this day, this has got nothing to do with my birthday.â€
Modi is not unaware of the fact that Gujarat-carnage is projected as a dark chapter in history of India and his political image. Amazingly, the very politician who at one time justified and also allegedly played a prominent role in fuelling the communal carnage now talks in a totally different tone. Refusing to take any responsibility, Modi said: â€œWhat moral responsibility for riots am I being asked to take? My government did its best.â€ He even said: â€œI have suffered in my heart for those who suffered and were victims of the 2002 riots. We acted with power and toughness to get life back in order.â€
Indicating that Gujarat will not witness the 2002-carnage again, Modi said: â€œI want to assure the country and all communities that we will not go below the parameters of humanity. Every second of my life is devoted to the people of the country.â€
Around 30-40 years ago, â€œthere was complete communal disharmonyâ€ provoking â€œviolence and curfewâ€ on even small discords leading to, as Modi said: â€œWhen a child was born he/she learnt the word curfew before learning mummy and papa.â€ Now, Modi claimed: â€œThere is no sign of disharmony. Gujarat has realized the strength of brotherhood. And this learning has not come through any preaching or advice, but through the fruits of development. Our growth has assured us that unity is our strength.â€
While Modi may have accepted and started saying that â€œcommunal politickingâ€ is not his political agenda, his opponents, including political rivals, riot victims and social activists still refuse to accept his rhetoric. Several civil rights activists, a group called Jan Sangarsh Manch (JSM) and a large number of riot victims gathered near a mosque at Narodia Patia to protest against Modiâ€™s Sadbhavana-fast. They called their demonstration Sachi Sadbhavna (True Goodwill). However, even before the event began, the policemen trooped in and detained more than 50 activists for several hours on the ground that they did not have the administrationâ€™s permission to protest (September 18).
Not willing to be outdone by Modi, Congress leaders in Gujarat began their fast an hour earlier than him. They also strongly criticized Modi for wasting taxpayersâ€™ by holding a â€œfive-starâ€ fast. â€œIf there is a justifiable cause for fast by the chief minister, we can understand it. He is saying this fast is for sadbhavna, but his fast is based on farce, falsehood and corruption,â€ Shankersinh Vaghela said.
While Modi held his fast in an air-conditioned hall, Vaghela and Arjun Modhwadia held theirs called, Satyagrah (for truth against misdeeds of Modi government) on a footpath in front of Sabarmati Ashram. Describing Modiâ€™s fast as â€œcorruption,â€ Vaghela said: â€œWhat was the necessity to spend several millions of public money? If he (Modi) wanted to fast, he could have done that at home also.â€ Modiâ€™s fast was a tamasha (show), Vaghela said.
Questioning Modiâ€™s claims of development, Vaghela listed several allegations of corruption against Gujarat government. Besides, he said: â€œThe state public debt has mounted to billions, about which the people of Gujarat are not aware. This is the kind of development he is talking about.â€ â€œWe want to show to the people that this is a corrupt government,â€ Vaghela said.
Referring to Gujarat-carnage, Vaghela said: â€œNow, Modi wants to project himself as a messiah of the minorities by undertaking such a fast and wants to show that he is their protector.â€
Irrespective of what their actual intentions are, with Gujarat to go for assembly polls in 2012, clearly both the parties- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have begun their campaigns by making lots of voice about their â€œfasts.â€