Ahmedabad: Ongoing the Patidar agitation in Gujarat is taking some very unexpected turn as Patidar Samiti leaders like Rahul Desai and Lalbhai Patel are candid enough to raise the communal question themselves as they lash out against the BJP.“The BJP is fundamentally a communal party that has been planting its ideology of fearing Muslims for years now,” said Desai. “I can tell you with certainty that Modi would never have been re-elected as the chief minister in 2002 if it had not been for the Godhra train burning.”

This February 27, 2002 photo shows the burning S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra.Photo credit  The Hindu

In February 2002, a mob at Godhra railway station killed 59 commuters of the Sabarmati Express by setting fire to its coaches. Thirty one Muslims were later convicted. The arson was followed by intense communal riots across Gujarat in which more than a thousand people died. Desai, who was in school at the time, remembers being shown videos of the Godhra train burning in class.

“They were doing it to propagate the idea that all Hindus need to come together or else the Muslims would kill us,” said Desai. “I don’t know if the men who burnt the train were Muslims or not, but I know that the Godhra train burning was a pre-planned political stunt by the BJP to win the state election later that year.”

When communal thinking takes root, says Desai, it is very difficult to get rid of. “Because of the BJP’s propaganda, all of us began to think communally, and I feel kind of cheated now,” he said. “Even today, people are afraid that Muslims will riot against them, but honestly, even if they don’t, the BJP will get it done.”

Desai acknowledges that he may not be speaking for all Patidars in Gujarat, but he is certain that all other members of the Patidar Andolan Samiti share his views.

In Mehsana, Laljibhai Patel  could not agree more. “Of course, Godhra and the 2002 riots were orchestrated by the BJP. It is obvious to us now, but back then it wasn’t,” said Lalbhai Patel. “Last time they targeted Muslims. Now they are allowing the Patels to be persecuted. This is exactly the kind of politics that leads to the creation of Naxals.”

For now, Patidar leaders are in no mood to support the party they were once loyal to in the state Assembly election next year. But even as the community accepts help from the Congress to fight various cases against Patidar men, Desai and Lalbhai are firm that Patel allegiance will not blindly bend towards the Congress this election.

“We will vote for whoever gives in to our demands – both reservations and justice for the police atrocities,” said Lalbhai Patel. “The Patidars are already now building connections with OBC Thakors and Muslims so you never know – even a third front might come up.”

About Congress’ offer of giving reservation to Patels and other upper castes under the EBC (Economically Backward Class) category, Lalji Patel is heard saying that other upper castes will reap maximum profits if the EBC reservation is accepted, while the Patels would not gain much.On Congress’ improved performance in local bodies polls held in November, Lalji Patel admitted that their stir had helped Congress, as Patels had decided to teach BJP a lesson.The large-scale protests by Patidars last year had triggered violence in many parts of the state, culminating in the arrest of Hardik Patel and his aides under the charge of sedition.

Speaking about the Congress’ offer of giving reservation to Patels and other upper castes under the EBC (Economically Backward Class) category, Lalji was heard saying that other upper castes will reap maximum profits if the EBC reservation is accepted, while the Patels would not gain much.On Congress’ impressive performance in local bodies polls held in November, Lalji admitted that their stir had helped Congress as Patels had decided to teach BJP a lesson (MM)


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