Editor's Note: The rape of a 14-month-old girl by a migrant labourer from Bihar in Idar town of Sabarkantha district on 28 September gave way to the persecution of migrant labourers in seven of the 33 districts of Gujarat. This incident ignited anger against migrant workers whom the locals believe are the real reason for unemployment in the state. This multi-part series will examine issues concerning migrant workers and the animosity they face from locals.
Ahmedabad: About 715 people were arrested following the rape of a toddler in northern Gujarat, allegedly by a Bihari factory worker, which sparked off attacks and threats against migrants in the neighbouring districts. Around 60 of them were Congress workers, claimed Minister of State for Home Affairs Pradipsinh Jadeja, which further increased the pressure on MLA of Radhanpur, Alpesh Thakor, who was already under fire for stoking nativist sentiments during speeches to his Thakor Sena cadre, post the rape incident.
Mukesh Bharwad, who is the vice-president of the OBC/SC/ST Ekta Manch (of which Alpesh Thakor is the president), called a press conference to rake up a conspiracy theory and implicate Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel. He said that during the entire episode many north Indian workers migrated from Mehsana region which is Patel’s Assembly constituency. He accused the deputy chief minister of allowing the attacks and exodus to happen with the intention of embarrassing Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
Speaking over the phone, he said, “It is very evident that there is a rift between the chief minister and deputy chief minister and it is known that Patel harbours a desire to be the chief minister soon.” Providing further arguments to substantiate this claim, he said that despite the major exodus of north Indians, the deputy chief minister has neither launched helplines nor established any relief camps for those affected.
Bharwad alleged that while Patel was sceptical that those leaving Gujarat were actually going home for holidays, he also did not push the entire the state machinery that is at his disposal to prevent the exodus, at the very least in his own constituency. “No efforts were made to stop those leaving Mehsana by stopping them at railway stations or bus stands,” he said, lamenting the law and order situation in the state.
He reiterated that neither Thakor nor his workers have made any efforts to provoke the population against migrants. “On the contrary, we launched a helpline for the sake of those in trouble and tried to persuade them not to leave their places of work as it is their constitutional right to freely move anywhere in the country,” Bharwad said.
He further accused the BJP of targetting a poor community like the Thakors for political ambition. “Blaming a poor community like Thakors and singling out MLA Alpesh Thakor will not yield the BJP anything conducive, as they do not have any evidence to prove their point.”
While he did not comment on the video of Thakor during a protest organised to condemn the rape, in which he is seen raging against how migrants were depriving the locals of their rightful jobs, Bharwad said the duplicity the BJP has shown in their attempt to put Thakor on the crosshairs is obvious for all to see.
"In a video from 1 October, BJP’s Himmatnagar MLA Rajendrasinh Chavda announced that the Rupani government is planning to ensure that Gujarat-based companies give 80 percent of the available jobs to locals. He said if this is not implemented, he will support the agitation by the youth. But no action was taken on him. But Thakor’s video from 17 September shows him only talking about unemployment and not targetting anyone,” he said. While no action was taken against him by the government, on the suggestion of his party Bharwad took out a peace rally and observed one day’s ‘sadbhavan fast’ demanding the release of Thakor Sena men who, he said, were wrongfully arrested.
Last week, Bharwad filed a complaint with the Ahmedabad Cyber Crime Cell against BJP Yuva Morcha member Vikas Patel for instigating Thakors against migrants through his Facebook post that proclaimed “Kadava hatao, Gujarat Bachao” (Remove north Indians, save Gujarat). In the very least, he wanted to show BJP’s hidden hand in the events that unfolded since 28 September.
Soon after, an off-the-cuff remark by Chief Minister Rupani that laid the blame for the violence on the feet of “Bihar ka Prabhari” (party in-charge for Bihar). This drew a sharp response from AICC state-in-charge for Bihar, Shaktisinh Gohil, who had been supporting Thakor against the allegations from the BJP. Gohil called a press conference to rubbish the claims and said a civil defamation suit has been filed against the chief minister. He also took the opportunity to illustrate how various people connected with the BJP were spreading venom on social media.
With the situation now back to normal, the events of the past few days may as well become a forgotten blip in the minds of everyone but those who were directly impacted. New Congressman Thakor, the party’s blue-eyed-boy during last year’s Assembly elections, may have put the party on the backfoot in the state, but it won’t be for long as Thakor’s popularity supercedes his alleged misdemeanours. Senior Congress leaders in Gujarat, however, are reportedly not happy with how the whole series of events have played out and have asked Rahul Gandhi to take a decision regarding Thakor.
"Traditionally, Thakors are Congress voters and this situation will not change drastically after the rape incident in Sabarkantha, as Thakor leader Alpesh Thakor, newly inducted into the Congress, has a stronghold in North Gujarat. BJP had been unable to show a satisfactory political performance in north Gujarat during the recent elections," according to Ahmedabad-based political analyst Jaywant Pandya.
The author is an Ahmedabad-based freelance writer and a part of 101Reporters’ grassroots network.
Updated Date: Oct 23, 2018 21:29 PM