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'Congress or BJP, little difference'

Armed with voter cards and stoic determination, survivors of the 2002 riots are getting ready to vote, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2007 00:26 IST
Neelesh Misra

Armed with voter cards and stoic determination, survivors of the 2002 riots are getting ready to vote — many for the first time — but find the Congress looking not too different from their familiar adversary, the BJP.

“We might not have a voice, but we certainly have a vote. We are determined to vote,” said Hameeda Beewi, 47, at Satnagar village in Sabarkantha district where several affected families have now relocated.

Gujarat’s 45 lakh Muslims form about 9 per cent of the population, according to the 2001 Census.

At least 19,000 of them live in resettled colonies, mostly in central Gujarat which will vote on Sunday in the second and final phase of the election. They are protected by police at all times — when they go to work in farms, to the bank or to shop, a guard follows them. They have received voter ID cards in their new locations.

“But then, Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin. What is different between them?” Beewi said.

While the BJP government is widely accused of doing little to control the fierce rioting and even encouraging it, the Congress is seen as equally pro-Hindu in Gujarat. Many Muslims say it is seeking Muslim votes without taking any stand that could lose them Hindu votes, especially in communally surcharged central Gujarat.

In Ahmedabad, Mohammed Salim Seth, 34, sits in a small office at another such colony. Seth, who lost his home, manages the housekeeping needs of the residents who earlier lived in the flashpoint of Naroda Patiya on the fringes of the city, where 87 Muslims are believed to have been killed.

“We all know what the Modi government did. But if the Congress party had helped, we would not have been in this condition,” Seth said. “The Prime Minister and everybody else came to see us like animals in the zoo — and went away. That was it.”

In Godhra where the burning of a train set off a furious cycle of rioting in several parts of Gujarat, 250 Muslims who lost their homes now live in a cluster called Aman Park, the park of peace.

Tauseef Nisar Sheikh, 18, is getting ready to vote for the first time. He used to study in the eighth standard in Anjanwa village, but says he could not study further after the riots which left him deeply traumatised. His cousins Ifzul and Imrana were thrown into a well and stoned to death — a crime for which the attackers got life sentences. His mother Maqsuda Begum was seriously injured and died after a year.

But he still has expectations from the Congress. “I will vote for the first time and I am going to vote for the Congress — at least they will help us in some way.”

Some houses away, Saira Hussein Shaikh, 24, whose family lost their home in Vadodara, rummaged through her belongings and took out her voter identity card. “We will certainly vote, all of us,” she said. “We are very excited about voting, but there is fear also – what will happen after we vote?”