May 3,4, 5 in Amethi
We embarked on the journey to Amethi with excitement. One, we were going to the battleground Royale, where a dynast was being challenged as was never done before and other, we were going to witness development of a constituency, supposedly nurtured by Rahul Gandhi.
Amethi lies 120 miles from Varanasi and part of the travel is by national expressway. It still took us more than five hours. Expressway was nowhere near what we are used to in Gujarat and secondary roads were horrendous to say the least. Traffic indiscipline was so terrible that more than once I thought we were going to die in a head-on collision.
We were put up with a fairly rich, landlord (Zamindar) type of a joint family of four brothers. House had 22 rooms. They owned about 65 acres farmland and had also other business interests. They were a pro-Congress people but now leaning towards Modiji. We had lively firsthand education about how Rajiv Gandhi built roads and other facilities and nurtured the constituency and how the village was indebted to him. But then in last 20 years, no development or maintenance had occurred. All this learning was under open skies sitting in a large verandah at late night. Sleeping on coats out in the open and waking up to the sweet sounds of dozens of peacocks was a beautiful experience. Our hosts were gracious and exhibited warmth that is still found in villages.
Next day we had a marathon day. We were on the road from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM with a break of about one hour. We were accompanied and guided by Sri Manish Manjul of Samarth Foundation, New Delhi. Besides, one of the host brothers was with us all the time. We visited Amethi and villages of Ayodhya Pur, Bariya Pur, Bhadaw, Dasai Pur, Durga Pur, Kalyan Pur, Karmai Pur, Kenaura, Lahua, Lambhua, Machwah, Madhur Pur, Ramgunj, Saranwa, Sambhovan, and Teraayen. I noticed a few things. (1) Lack of infrastructure. Roads were almost non-existent. Without exaggeration I can say that in Amethi constituency, there are potholes and craters connected by strips of pavements and this pass off as roads. (2) Limited and undependable supply of electricity. One may get up to 12 hours of electricity and that too not on a fixed schedule (3) Terrible shortage of water and poor quality of drinking water (4) Poverty of villagers (5) A sense of resignation and desperation
At village after village whether we met with groups of people or individuals, they had a litany of woes and we were listening to them helplessly. At one group meeting they brought drinking water in a glass to show us. It looked more like crushed brick mixed in water. Repeatedly the villagers and semi-urban people, educated as well as uneducated told us that no one cared for them. There was a yearning for a change and hope that “ Modi” will change their lot. We met followers of Congress and SAPA, who said that they would vote for Modi because he would bring development. Expectations from Modiji are so high that it scares me to think of the disappointment of these people when they would realize that changes wouldn’t come that fast and that many of the problems are linked to the non-performing local and State governments and not the central Government.
Despite all the unrest, my sense was that Rahul would sail through, albeit with a reduced margin. The Bharatiya mindset of groveling at the feet of a dynasty is so deeply etched in the psyche of the people that it is no use blaming only the rulers; people are equally responsible for their own plight. Education of the people and all-round development of impoverished areas by a BJP government is the only answer to end the hold of the dynasty, the Thakurs, the landlord and political mafia. Fortunately, all children go to school (education is a big business everywhere in Bharat) and Ekal Vidyalaya has good penetration in these villages, so hopefully thing would change for better.
An interesting thing I noticed was the custom that wherever one went, before the customary offer of a glass of water, the host will offer something to eat. It may be as simple as a piece of jaggery (deliciously sweet, since this is made in the farm from sugarcane without any additives or refinement), a biscuit or a cracker or sweets and snacks. Initially, I had refused the offer but once I came to know of the custom, I never said no. We drank all kind of waters at every place we went over these 10 days and we had no problem whatsoever; I attribute it to God’s grace. I was surprised that we were in one piece after the grueling journey on unending potholes for miles and miles but there was a sense of satisfaction that we were doing our bit for our beloved matrubhumi.
I was in Gujarat for approximately two and a half weeks around Deepawali time. My travels took me to interiors of Saurasthra region and North Gujarat but this blog is not about my experiences there, though they could become subject of a future blog.
Here I want to talk about my interaction with a Muslim shop owner in Karnavati, tha tis, Ahmedabad. Whenever I am in Bharat, I am a loyal customer of a laundry, owned by a Muslim person. All these time, I had never discussed with him politics because one is always on his guards when it comes to Muslim vis-a-vis BJP. However, this time it was different. I was at the laundry just after Deepawali when commerce in all of Gujarat comes almost to a standstill for full five days! I was lucky that this laundry was open. As the owner, Ganibhai and I looked at the deserted road which otherwise is a tidal wave of two wheelers and four wheelers, Ganibhai commented on the stillness of time and tranquility. I reminisced about my college days in early sixties and told him how this was a dirt road at that time. That led to a talk about the development in Karnavati. Ganibhai praised the all-round development, not only in Karnavati but also in Gujarat. he asked me if I agreed with him, based on my limited exposure. Then, he surprised me when he said, it was all due to the leadership.
Ganibhai at his Laundry
Cautiously I probed. I asked was it not true that Muslims had a distrust for the leader, that is Narendra Modi? Ganibhai said: “One has to forget what had happened (reference to Godhra and post Godhra riots) and move on. Fact was that Narendrabhai had done wonderful work for all. I asked, “how so? ” Ganibhai: “Before (Modi’s development), where we live, there were dens of gamblers and illicit liquor; our children were becoming hoodlums; there were so many without work. Today men earn honest money, even though they may be hawkers on the street. Our girls now aspire for education and some of them come in the first ten in Board examinations.” So what about Congress? Ganibhai: “They have used Muslims as pawns:” I asked him if that meant he was going to vote for BJP. His answer was an emphatic Yes and for a good measure he added, “I am a BJP man.”
I came home digesting what I had heard. I realized that up until now I had heard stories of Muslims coming on board with BJP from BJP leaning friends only. But today, I had heard it from the source. I decided that I should write a blog on this and for that I needed Ganibhai’s photo. So, next day I went to the shop and explained to him that I was going to write an article on Gujarat election from USA and wanted his photograph. He was very glad to hear that and I clicked away.
Thank you, Ganibhai.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
Muslim thinker: Government should withdraw Haj subsidy
Last updated on: October 30, 2012 23:41 IST
‘Politicians make hundreds of promises, many of them false, to trap Muslims,’ Abusaleh Shariff, member, Rajinder Sachar Committee, tells Rediff.com‘s Faisal Kidwai.
“Many Muslims are illiterate and don’t understand the political system, they get trapped,” says Abusaleh Shariff, member, Rajinder Sachar Committee.
Shariff, who is also president, Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi [ Images ] and chief scholar of the US-India Policy Institute, Washington DC, tells Rediff.com‘s Faisal Kidwai why he believes Muslims are shortchanged in India [ Images ].
When it comes to social and economic development, are Muslims in India behind other communities?
The Muslims are behind almost all other communities in India. In some areas, such as education and employment, Muslims are even worse than Dalits.
What are some of the major reasons for the Muslims’ underdevelopment?
There are many reasons. First, many of them live in rural areas where services such as schools and job opportunities are not that easily accessible.
Second, even those Muslims who live in cities live in slums and in the periphery of the city. They are confined to their own neighbourhoods and areas where public services are not provided as much as required.
So, if enough public services are provided to Muslim-concentration areas, their economic situation will improve. But this does not mean that services should not be provided to areas that are non-Muslim majority areas. We need broad-based parallel policies to address this lack of services.
If there are more schools, hospitals, etc, in their areas, then they will be more involved and will be in a better position to compete.
There are three charges that are levelled against Muslims: They are pampered by politicians (b) they get a huge Haj subsidy and (c) they have more children than others. What’s your view on these accusations?
Politicians want to use Muslims as vote banks. It’s a trick they play to use them.
Politicians make hundreds of promises, many of them false, to trap the Muslims and, since many Muslims are illiterate and don’t understand the political system, they get trapped.
I am a secular person and believe that the government should not have any role in any religion.
The Haj subsidy is a trap used by politicians to curry Muslim votes. As per Islam, only those people who can afford it should perform Haj.
The Haj subsidy is a form of interference by the government in religion; it should withdraw the subsidy.
The issue of population growth is as old as Independence. At the time of Independence, the fertility rate was high among all communities, including Muslims, Hindus and even Christians; the rate among Muslims was only marginally higher.
During the past 60 years, the fertility rate has dropped across all communities; it has also fallen for Muslims.
In fact, recent data shows that the drop in rate has been higher among Muslims than in any other community.
The birth rate has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with culture. Muslims are also part of the grand Indian culture and they are also changing with the culture.
Are you seeing more Muslims getting educated and coming into the mainstream?
Muslims have similar aspirations as any other community. They want their children to get educated, to move up in the economic chain and become part of the political system. They have same ambitions and aspirations as anybody in India.
It’s wrong to say that they are not interested in development. I have no reason to believe that Muslims are less patriotic than any other community.
Go to the rural areas in Uttar Pradesh [ Images ]. You will see that the Muslims there want education for their children, but the government has failed to construct schools and colleges.
Instead of constructing schools and colleges, the government is providing for madrassas and modernisation of madrassas. This is wrong because madrassas are religious institutions and the government should not play any role in them.
Religious schools like madrassas create segregation and that is bad for Muslims and the country.
The Web site of the ministry of human resources talks only about madrassa modernisation in the name of Muslims; the government should do better than that.
Don’t you think the Muslims too are to be blamed for their present situation?
The Constitution has provided certain guarantees. It’s the government’s job to provide primary education and healthcare.
Take immunisation, for instance. The government has to provide immunisation not only to Muslims, but to all people. It has to bring the immunisation programme to everybody.
The government has to create awareness and sensitise and inform people instead of blaming Muslims or saying that Muslims are not interested. It has to make them participatory, a stakeholder in the programme. This is true for every community.
The Dalits were backward, but the government created educational and employment programmes for them. Now, the Dalits are in a much better socio-economic position than they were a couple of decades ago.
Providing basic services is the duty of the government. If the government is discharging its duties properly, then we do not need special programmes or reservations for Dalits or anybody.
The failure to provide services shows that the government is discriminatory against Muslims and, by government, I mean the system.
Photograph courtesy: Abusaleh Shariff