There are two Mr Modis I know in Gujarat. One spells his surname with an ‘i’, the other with a ‘y’. Narendra Modi is a familiar household name. He is the Chief Minister of a ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, his political constituency’s ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ and the BJP’s man-in-waiting. After more than five years in power, he is the unquestioned leader of the Gujarat BJP and easily the most popular political figure in the state today. In the last five years, he has won every election in the state with a comfortable majority, from panchayat polls to a two-thirds victory in the assembly elections. His face adorns hoardings across the state and his supporters and well-oiled propaganda machine have anointed him Gujarat’s modern-day sardar. Truly, in the last five years, Narendra Modi has been catapulted from a relatively faceless RSS pracharak to becoming a larger-than-life figure within the Hindutva pantheon.
But this article is not meant to be about the Modi you know. Let me introduce you to another Mr Mody from Gujarat, the one who spells his surname with a ‘y’. It’s unlikely you’ve ever met, or heard of, Dara Mody. In his early 40s, Dara Mody is the typical anonymous Indian. He works in the Gujarat government’s Science City in an Ahmedabad suburb as a projectionist in an Imax theatre. Driving around in his two-wheeler across the city, he is a God-fearing Parsi, soft-spoken and rather shy. Television cameras are unlikely to follow him, no one will chant his name and he hasn’t ever appeared on a hoarding. He is very different from the other Mr Modi, and yet the fate of the two men are strangely linked.
For the last five years, while Narendrabhai has been winning election after election and building an ever-rising personality cult, Dara Mody has been roaming the streets of Ahmedabad and its police stations in search of his son. Dara’s 14-year-old son, Azhar, went missing on February 28, 2002, the day the post-Godhra violence tore apart parts of Gujarat. It was a defining day in the lives of both the Modi(y)s. While the violence transformed Narendra Modi into a modern-day hero of hatred and a ‘saviour’ of Hindus, Dara Mody’s humdrum middle-class life was shattered irrevocably.
Dara lived in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg society. When he left for work at 9 am that February day, he could have scarcely imagined how his little world would be changed forever. Gulberg was the scene of one of the worst massacres of the 2002 Gujarat riots, where more than 49 people were butchered (there is no other word that can be used to express the savagery) to death. Among them was the former Congress MP, Ehsaan Jaffrey. Dara’s teenaged son, Azhar, was with his mother, Rupa, and sister, Binaifer, when the mob attacked Gulberg. A frightened Rupa held on to her two children, desperately telling the attackers that she was a Parsi and not a Muslim. Her son was snatched away, never to be found. She and her now 13-year-old daughter have lived to tell the tale of horror and bestiality.
While Narendrabhai has thousands of supporters cheering him on, Dara has his distraught wife and shell-shocked daughter for company. What binds Dara’s family together is their search for their lost son, his memories captured in a fading photo album, including the last image of Azhar in his school uniform, proudly holding the tricolour. In the last five years, Dara, like the other families in Gulberg society, has been unable to return home. Their three-room house is still locked, a portrait of Zarathustra and a wall calendar with a February 2002 dateline the only reminders of what was once a happy, innocent little world. Time has stood still in Gulberg, a burst of bougainvillea in the central garden the only sign of life in an abandoned neighbourhood. Not one person has been convicted for the Gulberg massacre, and Dara can’t hope to return to his home for fear that the killers may be roaming on the streets outside the colony.
Till a few weeks ago, Dara’s story was just another statistic on the bloody map of Gujarat 2002, a map that includes both those who lost their loved ones in the Sabarmati train tragedy and those who suffered in the riots. At least the families of those who died in the Sabarmati blaze have the comfort of knowing that the alleged perpetrators have been arrested under Pota and are awaiting sentencing. By sharp contrast, there has not been a single conviction in any of the major riots cases. Ask Dara what he feels today, and the eyes become moist. “How can I feel anything when I have lost my teenaged son,” he says, without, remarkably, any trace of rancour. And then, with a hint of a smile, he reminds you, “I work for the government in Science City. How can I say anything about my employers!”
Now, Dara’s story is the subject of a major movie, Parzania, a film that has already won critical acclaim across the world, but is unlikely to be screened in Gujarat itself. Why should we have to revive the ghosts of 2002, Gujarat has moved on, runs the argument. On the face of it, Gujarat has indeed moved on. The state ranks second today in terms of new investments — proof, say Modi’s fan club, that Gujarat’s entrepreneurial spirit has triumphed over the scars of violence. The ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ conclave — the showpiece of the Modi government — has been seen as a resounding success, with 363 MoUs being signed, and investments worth thousands of crores being promised. With the entire weight of India Inc — from Ratan Tata to Mukesh Ambani — lining up behind the Chief Minister, Gujarat’s pariah status is gone. Five years ago, CII and several corporates had questioned the Modi government’s handling of the riots. Today, virtually every business house is extolling the virtues of the Chief Minister, widely seen as being non-corrupt and administratively efficient. In a state where the Opposition is feeble, and where previous chief ministers have been seen as either corrupt or ineffectual, Modi stands out as someone who has brought a muscular energy and a reputation for financial probity to the CM’s office.
Why then should pesky ‘secularist crusaders’ spoil the party by repeatedly raising the ghosts of the 2002 violence? Why should human rights activists from outside Gujarat hold public hearings in the state to find out about missing persons? Why should only the stories of grieving families of the riots cases be told? Why not make a film on the Panchal family, whose four members died in the Godhra train burning? And why give so much attention to Dara Mody, when the real hero of Gujarat is perhaps the other Modi? Unfortunately, those who ask these questions fail to answer certain more basic questions: how can the quest for individual and collective justice be seen in narrow, partisan terms? How can the political ascent of an ideology be used to sweep aside the human dimension of a tragedy? Can a state’s success be measured only in terms of monetary investments? What about the social fabric that remains badly ruptured? Is the shining present good enough to sweep aside the darkened recent past?
Perhaps, some answers can be found if the two Modi(y)s meet. Maybe, Narendrabhai may wish to consider placing his arm around Darabhai’s shoulder, maybe he might find the time to share Dara’s grief, maybe he could even consider doing something as simple as saying sorry to the Mody couple. It is not just communal hatred that divides Gujarat even today. It is the absence of a sense of remorse or compassion. In the long run, this cannot be the recipe for a ‘Vibrant Gujarat’.
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, CNN IBN and IBN 7