Teesta Setalvad, Times of India, 5 May, 2006
Thirty-eight-year-old Rafik Abdul Ghani Vohra was set upon by a mob, led by Ashok Thakur and other well-known VHP activists, and burnt to death in his car, at Ajwa Road, while returning from Gujarat Refineries on May 2.
The 1,000-strong mob gathered at Ajwa Road — unstopped by the police despite curfew — for two hours or so before the attack took place. Despite repeated calls by his family and neighbours to the police control and Deepak Swaroop, commissioner of police (CP), Vadodara, a callous administration did not respond.
Some family members told the national media and television channels that when they did connect with the police, they were told 'to go to Pakistan'. Local social activists feel that the response of the CP, chief minister's office and state home secretary's office since the outbreak of violence was worse than in 2002.
The CP simply kept disconnecting his mobile, according to agitated residents and social activists who made over 200 calls while the mob was building up. But for pressure exercised by the government at the Centre, the Gujarat state, its executive and its administration would not have been compelled to act immediately, without fear or favour.
The trouble began in Vadodara on May 1, with the demolition launched by Vadodara municipal administration, aided by police, in violation of the 'compromise' formula worked between the administration and minorities that two and a half feet of the shrine were to be 'sacrificed' for 'deve-lopment'.
The shrine in question was the Dargah Hazrat Rashiuddin, a target of communal forces since 1969. At least 385 years old, its existence is recorded in the first city survey carried out by Sayaji Rao Maharaj in 1912.
On the morning of May 1, the police and corporation demolished the shrine and by afternoon in a swift military-like action even paved a road over it.
Ghastly memories of 2002 were invoked when over 270 minority shrines were destroyed in just the first six days of post-Godhra premeditated violence, including the Wali Dakhani's mazhar just outside the CP's office at Shahi Baug in Ahmedabad on March 1,
Ustad Faiz Khan's tomb in Vadodara also had its facade destroyed then. All signs of the remains of Wali Dakhani's tomb in Ahmedabad were removed by the wee hours of the next morning, again by politicians aided by the administration — a tar road was paved over the spot.
Four years later, in Vadodara, BJP leaders who are also VHP and Bajrang Dal office bearers, assisted the administration in paving a road over the destroyed shrine. Dargahs, or the mazars (graves) of Sufi saints are visited by worshippers belonging to different communities.
The mujawar (caretakers) are often Hindus. Dargahs are and have been for decades a threat to the narrow sectarian worldview of Hindu communalists. The fast-growing Muslim communal worldview also dislikes dargahs because they affect the 'purity' of Islam.
Haji Malang in Thane, north of Mumbai, and Baba Boudhangiri shrine in Chikmagalur district of Andhra Pradesh are two that have been targets of physical attacks by the wider conglomerate of the Hindu communalists.
RSS has allegedly compiled and circulated a secret list of over 400 such shrines (that include churches) that need to be recaptured or taken over or destroyed.
It is this deeper motive behind the May 1 attack on the Vadodara shrine, aspects of which were a chilling reminder of the pogrom of 2002, that needs to be showcased in public memory today.
Many of Gujarat's cities are today segregated and ghettoised, dividing civic existence and living into an Us versus Them. This makes any political project of divide and rule, however unconstitutional, easier.
The destruction of dargahs is a pre-requisite for complete division and polarisation among Gujaratis. Police firing after the demolition in Vadodara — television shots clearly show — was aimed to kill, not disperse.
Worse, this was not a neutral administrative action. Present at the site were mayor of the city, Sushil Solanki, BJP leader(s) Nalin Bhatt and councillors Rakesh Patel, Arvind Patel, Chandrakant Thakkar, Lalit Raj, Harish Shevani, Yogesh Patel and Mahesh Rana.
Incidentally, both Bhatt and Patel have been identified by citizens' groups as allegedly responsible for the vicious violence in Vadodara in 2002.
Provocative slogans like, 'destroy the mini-Babri' and 'if the VMC will not demolish, the VHP and Bajrang Dal will' proved to be the last straw. Three persons died in police firing, and 27 were injured.
Two innocent members of the majority Hindu community were killed in retaliatory stabbings later. The burning alive of Rafik was the fifth life lost 36 hours after the first killings.
The police and administration have lost the ability to function with the neutrality demanded of them by the Constitution. Constitutional breakdown is a fact of everyday life in Gujarat; yet, it surfaces only when fires rage and lives are lost.
The writer is co-editor, Communalism Combat.