Modi’s new fans: Christian tribal leaders from Hindutva lab!

Ignored by Congress, they find home in BJP: Expect surprises in Dang district

ajay

Ajay Singh | November 5, 2012


Siyoni
Siyoni

Before the 2002 riots in Gujarat, perhaps no other place would have been referred to as an example of the Sangh Parivar's religious intolerance as Dang was. Located in the midst of a lush green forest surrounded by the Satpura range of mountains at the southern border of the state, Dang is endowed with nature's bounty and ruined by man’s caprice.

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The district is dominated by tribals who are divided on religious lines. There is a distinct division of Hindu tribals and Christian tribals in the district. And the tension often arises on the slightest pretext which often has its genesis in local politics. A section of firebrand sadhus, including infamous Aseemanand, had turned this place into a veritable Hindutva laboratory by the late 1990s. Aseemanad was known to have stoked tension on religious lines till he was hounded by the CBI in connection with the Samjhauta Express terrorist blasts.

No doubt, Dang evokes a cumbersome political memory for a leader like Narendra Modi who has set his eyes on a larger national role. And in this election he has been working in right earnest to erase this memory from people's psyche.

Siyoni, a young and articulate Christian woman, has been working overtime for the BJP these days. Her decision to join the party was prompted by pragmatic political calculations. Since 1998 when Dang witnessed anti-Christian violence, Siyoni emerged as a flag-bearer for human rights and champion of the minority's cause. She worked for the Congress tirelessly for a decade but the party's senior leadership let her down. "In my 15-year-long association with it, I was never able to meet any senior state leader in the state, let alone meeting members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty," she said.

However, Siyoni now proudly claims that the chief minister knows her by name. "In the BJP regime, I get access to any minister or bureaucrat and get my voice heard by the system.”
But what about the persecution of Christians in the BJP regime? Siyoni dismisses the question as irrelevant and points out that Modi in his tenure has kept trouble-mongers at arm’s length from Christians in Dang. "He has ensured that Christians are not harassed by Sangh Parivar hardliners.”
Siyoni is not the only new entrant in the Modi fold which brought in a political culture distinctly different from that of the Hindutva hardliners. Yet another former Congress leader, Girish Modi, has been brought in as the BJP's important office-bearer to woo Christians and neutralise the hardliner and intolerant image of the BJP.

There are all indications that Modi's strategy has worked. Unlike the 2007 elections when Christian tribals were dead against the BJP, the hostility seems to be effectively diluted this time. The state government's initiatives to provide direct economic benefits through cooperatives and dairy schemes are seen as a major attraction for the tribals. Since tribals constitute a significant electoral chunk in Gujarat, next only to Odisha, the change of heart among people in Dang appears to be a precursor to emerging politics.

Though Dang, which boasts of the densest forest cover in India, has been gradually depleted of its green cover in rapid regularity, the state apparatus appears to be hand in gloves with the timber mafias. The denudation of the forest seriously endangers the region's ecosystem. But such concerns have been sacrificed at the altar of power politics. The Keynesian principle, "in the long run we are all dead", applies more to politics than economics in Gujarat.

 

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