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Time for Modi to build an inclusive Gujarat: NRIs

IANS
Dec 24, 2007 at 04:44pm IST

London: Non-resident Indians in Britain, led by the powerful and wealthy Gujarati business community, want Narendra Modi to heal the scars of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat and help build an inclusive state in his third stint as Chief Minister.

"With this further term, we hope he will work towards building a inclusive society in Gujarat, working for the development of all sections, not one particular section," said Praveen Amin, a Hindu who heads the National Congress of Gujarati Associations of UK, an umbrella body representing 98 Gujarati organisations.

"After all, Modi as chief minister represents all the religions of Gujarat," he added.

POINT TO NOTE: Every Gujarati praises Modi for the fact that there has been no violence against Muslims since 2002.

More than 1,000 Muslims were killed in the state in 2002 by Hindu extremists following the torching of a train in the town of Godhra, in which 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed. International human rights groups, holding Modi responsible for the violence, have blocked not only some of his travel abroad but also his access to Western government leaders.

Modi's position is closely intertwined with the activities and interests of British Gujaratis, who are the largest ethnic Indian as well as Hindu community in Britain and number about half a million (there are no official figures of the number of Gujaratis in Britain). They invest heavily in Gujarat and a rising number of them are spending more of their time and money in Gujarat.

Increasingly in a shrinking world, events in India and Britain impact on each other's populations, no more so than Gujaratis.

In interviews with IANS, prominent NRIs said that in addition to the financial and economic stability that Modi has brought in, they want to see religious harmony in the western Indian state - an end to the religious strife and polarisation that has marred the Modi years.

"Let me say one thing to Muslims - it is time to forgive and forget," said Sir Gulam K. Noon, head of multi-million pounds Indian food business empire, Noon Products. "You know, things happen. You can't go on and on about 2002. India's roots of secularism are very deep and all Muslims have a place in India."

"But in the next five years, Modi should build a united community, inject secularism and continue the development of Gujarat," Noon added.

"Modi has the power to be a good administrator - we all know that. I just hope he will learn from history and build community cohesion, so that all Gujaratis can benefit from economic and social stability," said Buddhdev Pandya, a London-based Gujarati community leader and well-known campaigner on immigration issues.

Every Gujarati — both Hindu and Muslim — that IANS spoke to highlighted one particular achievement of Modi: that there had been no violence against Muslims since 2002.

"Obviously all our members are deeply hurt. But many Muslim Gujaratis in Britain take a slightly milder position towards Modi these days," said Shamsuddin Agha, president of the Indian Muslim Federation (IMF) UK. "They acknowledge that Muslims have to live and work in Gujarat and they want to look ahead."

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Some 70 percent of the IMF's members are Gujarati-speaking Muslims and many of them, says Agha, realise that "it's no good just being angry."

"Our group has appreciation for his governance. We only hope that in his third coming, Modi will bring justice and punish the people who took part in the 2002 killings," said Agha. "In the last four or five years there have been no riots against Muslims. There is tension of course, but no riots," he added.

Three British Gujarati-speaking men were among those killed in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence. Mohammad Aswat Nallabhai and cousins Saeed and Shakil Dawood, all from the northern English region of Yorkshire, were killed when their jeep was attacked by Hindu extremists near the town of Himmatnagar.

An Early Day Motion submitted before the British parliament and signed by 46 MPs in May "deplores the decision of the Gujarat authorities not to investigate these horrific crimes properly and uphold justice by convicting those responsible."

But such thoughts are not uppermost among those who count themselves as staunch supporters of Modi in Britain. "Who doesn't have an opponent when he is a rising star?" said Dr Harish M. Rughani, Executive Chairman of Shri Vallabh Nidhi UK, an organisation that is building a large Hindu temple in the London suburb of Wembley.

"Only a handful of people in Britain oppose Modi. The majority of Gujaratis here are thrilled. It is a fantastic election victory for a man who has brought so much vibrancy to Gujarat," Rughani added.

Shamsuddin Agha is far less effusive, and for at least one very good reason. The IMF, he points out, was launched in the aftermath of another Gujarat riot - the one in 1969 that is thought to have killed some 2,500 people. That another wave of violence could have swept the state in just over three decades is a bitter experience, not for him alone but more so for those who live in Gujarat.

"People who are not political, who are not educated, who are not strong - people who are hardly out of their mosques - these people are very much scared," said Agha. "We hope and pray Modi will change his mind about Muslims."

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