A Republic Alert on 26 Jan’10 : Beware of Modi !


 Narendra Modi’s bid to take the grand “trunk” road to Dalit hearts in Surendranagar yesterday was a jumbo gimmick to “hoodwink” them, the community feels. The chief minister had led a march through the Saurashtra town, followed by a decked-out elephant carrying an oversized replica of the Constitution, in an attempt to showcase his respect for the statute and its best-known architect, Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar.

 But he had spoken not a word on remedying the local Dalits’ biggest grievance — the land disputes that have led to numerous attacks on the community in Surendranagar district. “The Dalits of Surendranagar feel they have been cheated,” said Valji Patel, an Ambedkarite and a Dalit leader from the district. In the run-up to Modi’s Samvidhan Gaurav Yatra (Parade of Pride for the Constitution) in Surendranagar town, 100km from Ahmedabad, BJP activists had been moving around the villages, telling Dalits their problems would be addressed if they attended the road show. So the community, waiting for justice for years, had turned up in large numbers, expecting the chief minister to say something about the land disputes. “Now they feel they were taken for a ride,” Patel said. The Dalits say that the upper castes have grabbed 12,500 acres belonging to various Scheduled Caste co-operatives in the district, a charge Patel claims he can corroborate with evidence. Till now, the community’s demand for redistribution of the land has been stonewalled by an alleged nexus between the upper castes, government officials and politicians. The Dalits feel that until they get their land back, there is no point “worshipping” the Constitution, as Modi did yesterday amid Vedic chants. “The chief minister’s symbolic act of honouring the Constitution was a cruel joke meant to hoodwink us,” a Dalit activist said. “We don’t need symbolism; we need social justice.” Political commentator Achut Yagnik alleged that Modi, accused of allowing the 2002 pogrom of Muslims to happen, cared little for the Constitution. “The Surendranagar gimmick was merely an effort at an image makeover,” he said. If Modi indeed reveres the Constitution, how come that eight years after the 2002 killings, many Muslim victims still dare not return to their villages, minority leaders asked. And why is Section 144, which prohibits public assembly or protests, still in place in all the major cities of Gujarat — almost continuously since the 2002 violence, activists queried. The government’s excuse is that it has intelligence about possible disturbances. “If you respect the Constitution, you should respect the rights it guarantees,” said Modi loyalist-turned-critic Sunil Oza, a former BJP MLA. Civil rights activist Gautam Thaker cited how Modi was termed a “modern- day Nero” by the Supreme Court and criticised within his own party for his autocratic style. “Today he has suddenly turned a great admirer of the Constitution and democracy. It’s his political compulsions that were behind yesterday’s tamasha,” Thaker said.

Source: TOI

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