Juhapura in 3D

The "toofan" last visited in 2002, but from the Muslim areas of Daryapur and the sprawling all-Muslim ghetto of Juhapura in Ahmedabad, it never fully blew away.

Take a walk down the busy lanes and bylanes here, and you might find out why, unlike at other times in the past when Gujarat was convulsed by violence between communities, memories of the communal riot in 2002 have refused to quietly recede into the euphemism commonly used for it: toofan, a storm, a force of nature that mere mortals are helpless against.

In an election marked by the never-before communication blitzkrieg, Daryapur's Muslim areas and Juhapura are witnessing only one party's campaign. The Congress comes here, if only at election time. This time, too, its candidates and workers are doing the rounds, its posters are pasted on walls and its flags flutter from wires strung between poles.

With only days to go for the final phase of polling in election 2012, in which residents of these areas will vote, however, you can spot no BJP candidate, leader, corporator or karyakarta. The lotus doesn't bloom on poster or banner, and there is no Modi in 3D, either in the Muslim areas of Daryapur, said to always vote Congress, or in large parts of Juhapura, which, before delimitation, was part of the constituency that elected BJP's Amit Shah. "He (Shah) has won the seat four times but hasn't come here even once", says Sadiq Husain, who runs an autorickshaw.

The BJP's reluctance or refusal to come and ask for votes from the Muslims kickstarts the chai-shop argument. "Some of us would certainly get influenced if the BJP or Modi came here. Right now, Muslims only get to hear the Congress", says young Nissar Ahmed, who runs a tailoring shop in Daryapur. "But why will they come, when they say openly that they don't want our votes?" Zaheeruddin, who runs a small hotel, frames the shared scepticism.

It isn't just that 10 years after 2002, the BJP still doesn't openly campaign in these Muslim-only areas. It is also that in 2012, the party hasn't given a ticket to a Muslim candidate, despite "Sadbhavna". Modi's outreach programme in September was projected as an attempt to address Muslims in the run-up to the elections. "Could the BJP not find a single Muslim candidate across 182 seats, even on seats where Muslims dominate" the question is asked, again and again.

Many relate the televised episode of Modi refusing to wear a cap presented to him onstage during Sadbhavna. Modi's comment on Sir Creek during the campaign resonates here as more evidence of his "Hindu card".

If the political gulf between the ruling party and the minority community was etched sharper and deeper after 2002, so was the physical segregation of living spaces. In Daryapur, residents say that the separation of its Hindu and Muslim parts was not as pronounced earlier. Hindus all moved out from Juhapura in 2002. Today, only Muslims live in the societies that still bear Hindu names like "Dayanand", "Prerna", and "Pracheena".

Abandonment by the ruling party is linked to the withdrawal of the state. At the indescribably perilous Juhapura "char rasta" (crossing), which has no traffic light or policeman to regulate the careening rush of buses, trucks, scooters and cars, Usman Ghani, who runs a small shop, shakes his head. "It's Allah who helps us cross this road alive daily."

There is no proper drainage or street lighting in Juhapura. Across the "border", they say, from where the Hindu locality of Vejalpur begins, are the sodium lights, the wide road, the overbridge and water supply. Though the highway runs by Juhapura, the state corporation bus skirts the colony and residents must go all the way to Sarkhej or Vasna to take the bus to Bhavnagar and Rajkot.

Community organisations, often wielding deeply conservative social agendas along with charity, have stepped into the gaping spaces left by the receding of formal politics and the state. In Juhapura, the Islamic Relief Committee was set up after 2002, and the Baitulmal and Jamaat-e-Islami acquired a new clout after the riots. Roads and gutters have been laid after collecting donations from residents.

The lack of development and jobs for Muslim youth, in a time of rising prices, is a common worry. But the overriding concern expressed across age groups, by rich as well as poor, in these areas of Ahmedabad continues to be "safety and security".

For Rahil Kazi, 21, who lives in the more prosperous bungalow zone of Juhapura, safety includes the government jobs that elude Muslims. For many others, the term has more basic connotations.

"If I get late coming back from work", says Irfan, 29, who lives in Daryapur and works in a BPO on the SG highway, "I feel nervous. If a Hindu is slapped somewhere in the city, for a few days we hesitate to step outside Daryapur", he says.

And yet, ordinary Hindus have been told they need protection from Muslims, they say. "They have been told that if the BJP loses, their women will not be safe. Are we all terrorists and criminals?" The question comes, incongruously, from the grey-haired Madina M. Mansuri, a grandmother and resident of Daryapur. Madina has seen many a toofan come and go, "but after 2002, the poison stayed", she says. "Our children are in jails, even after the courts have ordered their release", says Mohammad Ayub, a government servant, "We want our political representative to speak for them, even if he doesn't lay the

gutters", he says.

Narendra Modi and his 3D image may stay away from Muslim Daryapur and Juhapura, but he looms at the centre of every discussion as the election picks up pace.

"He has done vikas", says Sheikh Mohammad Younus Haji Mian who runs a small rented shop in Daryapur. "Modi is Number 1 in development", feels Irfan. But both agree that the vikas Modi has brought is elsewhere not in the Muslim areas of Daryapur, nor in Juhapura.

Can Modi be prime minister, the question hangs in the air. There is palpable unease, and something else. A sense that while the community's vote will not matter to Modi's re-election in Gujarat because of its small numbers in the state, he may not be able to ignore its concerns as blithely for his next step to the national stage. It won't happen, they insist, because of UP and Bihar, Mayawati and Mulayam, coalition politics, the US and the infighting BJP. "The rest of the country is not like Gujarat", grey-bearded Sadiq Husain of Juhapura is certain. "You don't know Mayawati", 20-something Anju tells a group of older Daryapur housewives. Anju's father came from UP to settle in Gujarat and she is certain that UP's leader will never let Modi become PM. "He never even got the US visa", points out the much older Rukkaiya. In Juhapura, Sadiq Husain is looking hopefully at Nitish Kumar: "Modi will have to get support from other states. They won't even let him campaign in Bihar."

From both Daryapur and Juhapura, the Congress puts up Muslim candidates, but most agree that even where it wins, the party has shown little in the name of development. "We have to vote for someone", says a resigned Mohammad Firoz of Juhapura, a businessman. Things may be changing from one generation to the next. "Our parents automatically gave their vote to the Congress, they wouldn't even look at the local candidate. I vote for the Congress only because I have no option", says Irfan in Daryapur.

As the campaign for Gujarat winds to a close, the question is not: Have the Muslims of Gujarat moved on from 2002? It should be: Is anyone out there helping them to leave 2002 behind?

vandita.mishra@expressindia.com

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