//Tale of 2 demolition drives: Vadodara, Rajkot

Tale of 2 demolition drives: Vadodara, Rajkot

Hiral Dave. Indian Express,  Thursday, May 04, 2006 at 0951 hours IST

Rajkot, May 4: Two demolition drives, and two different ways of going about it. So while in Gujarat’s cultural capital Vadodara, the BJP went about doing a "balancing act" by razing a 300-year-old dargah, in Rajkot, the BJP fought the Municipal Commissioner tooth and nail for removing a small temple that was encroaching on RMC land.

In Vadodara, the situation took a violent turn, leaving six dead and many injured. Since then, the Vadodara civic body hit the brakes on the demolition drive, stating that now "peace is the priority." And in Rajkot too, where the Municipal Commissioner was assaulted, the anti-encroachment drive has come to a grinding halt.

What’s interesting is that involved in the drive at both places were municipal corporations ruled by the BJP. Demolishing illegal structures — a temple in Rajkot and a dargah in Vadodara — was on the agenda, but the reactions seem to be very different.

In Vadodara, the BJP supported the demolition, stating that it was a "balancing act" for the city’s development, in Rajkot, where the structure was razed to make way for a town planning scheme, they — the BJP councillors — came to blows with the Municipal Commissioner over the demolition.

They were arrested and later released. No action, whatsoever, was taken against them.

But the BJP has the modus operandi worked out: If senior BJP leaders like Nalin Bhatt and a host of VMC councillors remained at the site to ensure the razing of Sayed Rashiuddin Chisti’s dargah, in Rajkot, BJP councillor from ward number 18, Narendra Dav, led a 3,000-strong mob on April 18 to stop demolition of the temple. He even presented Kumar with a list of religious structures of the minority community that should be included in the demolition drive. But Kumar refused to, saying they weren’t encroaching on RMC land. That was what landed him in trouble.

When approached, BJP Rajkot president Dhansukh Bhanderi said: ‘‘We believe in development and want to avoid controversy. The BJP does not object to removal of any religious structure, whether at Rajkot or Vadodara, if it is illegal.’’ In the past, he said, several deris and temples had been removed in Vadodara and Rajkot.

That’s what he’s saying now. But that’s not what the 18-odd councillors said when they barged into Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Kumar’s office by breaking open the iron grill and assaulted him.

Then, one of councillors, had categorically asked why "only temples were being targeted and tombs were not being razed".

The temple in Rajkot was built on a 10,000 square metre RMC plot — part of a town planning scheme — worth Rs 10 crore about eight years back by a local group. Due to it’s proximity to national highway, it happens to be prime location.

Yet the BJP opposed the Commissioner’s development plans. Mukesh Kumar was manhandled even as party workers ransacked the RMC office, causing losses to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh.

Meanwhile, his counterpart in Vadodara, Rohit Pathak, was hailed for doing his job. As if Kumar wasn’t doing his.

In the last two years, Kumar has effectively removed encroachments from two lakh square metres of land in Rajkot. But with the drive now coming to a halt, the last committee meeting held on Friday had only three proposals to be cleared instead of the usual 20 to 25.

Despite the strong representation by Kumar, the BJP leadership in Gandhinagar is yet act against the councillors who face charges of attacking a public servant and damaging public property. According to top RMC officials, the councillors can be disqualified for their act under Section 13 of the BPM Act.

But to pass a resolution, a three-fourth majority is required in the general board, which is impossible without the support of the BJP as it enjoys majority with 59 councillors. The BJP leadership, however, is in no mood to take any action against them. Emphasising, Bhanderi said, "No action will be taken against the councillors."

What does State Urban Development Minister I K Jadeja have to say? He maintained that the situation in both the cities was different and cannot be compared.

"Both the cases are very different. What happened in Rajkot was not only about demolition, but many other issues were involved too," he said.

"In both cities, many illegal religious structures belonging to different communities have been demolished. In Vadodara, before razing the dargah, three temples were pulled down on the same road."