Gujarat Files: 'Disturbed' Ahmedabad daily consumes 150 tons of meat and fish

No, Abbas was the friend of Narendra Modi's younger brother; Ahmedabad consumes 150 tonnes of meat and fish and 15 lakh eggs every day; there are 770 ‘disturbed areas’ still in Ahmedabad...and more

PM Narendra Modi with his mother Hiraba
PM Narendra Modi with his mother Hiraba

RK Misra

No, Abbas was not Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s friend. He was a friend of the PM’s younger brother Pankaj and lived with the family for a year. Narendra Modi had already left to join the RSS and his attitude to Abbas Bhai is not quite known.

But when the PM sprung Abbas out of the blue in a blog published in The Times of India, on his mother’s 100th birthday (her 100th birthday however was reported by the media almost every year since 2016) this year, it was greeted with sarcasm. The question ‘Abbas Bhai, aap kahan ho/aap kahan the’ reverberated across social media.

Well, Narendra Modi is not quite known to be friendly to Muslims though since becoming the PM, he has visited mosques and sent chadars to Ajmer sharif. But his silence on the lynchings, economic boycott of Muslims and their repression by the State tells its own story. In 2011 while still the chief minister of Gujarat, he had refused a skull cap offered during his Sadbhavna Yatra.

But in his blog the PM wrote eloquently about how affectionate his mother was towards Abbas and how on Eid she would make special food that Abbas liked. The blog triggered a round of speculation on whether the Modi household served Abbas kebabs or biryani. But the point made by the PM was well taken. It was a different India and a different household where a Muslim could live without fear.

Was the reference to Abbas then made for rabid Hindus, who lynch meat eaters and refuse to buy even vegetables or accept deliveries from Muslims? Or was it meant to tell the Islamic nations how inclusive his own family was?

One will perhaps never know what motivated the PM to rake up Abbas. But armchair psychologists wondered if Narendra Modi’s apparent hatred for Muslims was fuelled by the hospitality accorded to Abbas by his own family.

Abbas Bhai
Abbas Bhai

Gujarati media reported that Abbas Bhai now lives in Sydney (Australia) after retiring from Gujarat Government. One doesn’t know if he or his family also suffered during the 2002 riots in Gujarat; or whether his connections with Modi’s family helped. But he told a TV channel that his father and Narendra Modi’s father were good friends and after his father passed away, he lived for a year with the Modis.

“The atmosphere then was different, everyone used to celebrate all festivals together,” he recalled.

But BJP under Modi and Amit Shah has spared no effort to isolate and sideline Muslims in Gujarat. In November last year, civic bodies in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Junagadh and Bhavnagar banned the sale of non-vegetarian food on the main streets. They apparently hurt religious sentiment.

When 17 lakh street vendors threatened to agitate and knocked on the doors of the High Court, the government relented. While the vendors were Muslims, the state had failed to reckon with the fact that buyers were mostly the non-Muslims. Indeed, Ahmedabad alone is said to consume 150 tonne of meat and fish and 15 lakh eggs every day.

Gujarat has also tweaked the Disturbed Areas Act, originally introduced in 1986 to protect minorities living in mixed areas from being coerced to sell their property at throwaway prices and move out. As a result Muslims cannot buy property in disturbed areas without permission from the state, permission which even foreigners do not require.

Once again in Ahmedabad alone, informed a media report in 2019, there were as many as 770 localities declared to be ‘disturbed’. Ironically, Gujarat, barring 2002, is now seen as an oasis of peace and harmony.

It also sought to tweak the Freedom of Religion Act to criminalise inter-faith marriages without the consent of the state, community and family. It has moved the Supreme Court against the stay granted by the High Court.

In April 2019, Gujarat High Court had similarly quashed three notifications of the Gujarat Government aimed at stopping export of livestock from Tuna port in Kutch, describing the decision as “grossly illegal, unconstitutional and violative of the fundamental rights of the petitioners”. The state government requested the HC to stay its order so that it could challenge it in the Supreme Court. But no stay was granted.

Well, how would Abbas Bhai react to the demonisation of his community in Gujarat? One doesn’t really know but there can hardly be a better summing up than what Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay wrote this week in The Indian Express:

“The Abbas tale may have trended and created a splash for the man, now in Australia, and added to the ongoing project to publicise Modi’s softer side. But beyond that it will do precious little.”

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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