On the occasion of completion of two years of the Gujarat government under Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, The Sunday Guardian asked prominent businessman and Muslim leader Zafar Sareshwala about the current situation in Gujarat. Here, the businessman and close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about the important projects that were completed under Anandiben’s stewardship, the unprecedented peace and communal harmony in the state, Narendra Modi’s popularity among Gujarati Muslims, and the need for dialogue between the government and the masses. Excerpts:
Q. It has been two years since Anandiben Patel came to power. How is Gujarat progressing under her stewardship?
A. During Narendra Modi’s tenure as the Chief Minsiter, he had set out a vision for the state. Anandiben has been ably carrying ahead that mantle. She has continued all the policies that the Modi government had believed in. She has also laid emphasis on industrialisation, investment, and progress of all sections of the society. The work on many infrastructure projects had begun during Narendra Modi’s tenure. She has completed many of them. The best example that can be given is that of the Sabarmati riverfront project. It was the pet project of Modiji. It was completed under the stewardship of Anandiben.
Q. After Narendra Modi went on to become the Prime Minister, has the Gujarat model of development changed under the new leadership?
A. No, it hasn’t. As a Chief Minister, Narendra Modi had created a template of development for Gujarat. The successive governments have to just follow it. It is something like the liberalisation template which was created by Manmohan Singh in 1991. It was so strong that the successive governments only had to follow it. Likewise, Modiji has created a template for the development of Gujarat, especially in the fields of power, roads, infrastructure. The progress of the state in these fields has been enormous. And Anandiben has carried ahead the projects. She is implementing his vision.
Q. What does the Muslim community feel about Anandiben’s government?
A. What had happened after the change of leadership was that there was a communication gap. For a few months, there was a vacuum. There was no dialogue of the community with the Anandiben government for nearly five-six months after she came to power. Unfortunately, to add to it, the Muslim leaders in Gujarat BJP have no connect with the masses.
At that time, I would rarely visit Ahmedabad, and I, too, was out of touch. So, during that time in 2014, a lot of issues started arising. There were a few incidents (of discord) in Bharuch too. During the Bakri Eid of 2014, a lot of issues started coming up. There were problems again.
Q. How did it get sorted out?
A. Then, people started calling me. This is what I had done at the time of Narendra Modi too. My whole idea was to connect the Muslims with the government, so there is no vacuum.
We have to understand that a government is neither Hindu nor Muslim — 65 lakh Muslims of Gujarat cannot alienate themselves from the government. It is their government too. So then, I gathered a delegation of 29 Gujarati Muslims. They included Ulemas, Islamic scholars, some ladies, industrialists, businessmen, poor entrepreneurs. I took an appointment with Anandiben. Frankly, my role was only to act as a bridge. We all went to talk to her.
Q. What was Anandiben’s approach towards the delegation?
A. To be fair to her, she listened to everybody calmly. Just like Modi, she conducted herself well. Of the delegation, one scholar was Shaif ul Hadith. When I told her that, she stood in respect. One scholar stayed in Mecca. She respectfully said, “What else does one want after he gets to stay at Mecca?” She showed immense sensitivity. She called her officers. She connected with people after that.
After that, there was no looking back. Generally, Bakri Eid would be a trigger for violence almost every year. But the Muslims of Gujarat will vouch that the 2015 Bakri Eid was the most peaceful Bakri Eid in the past 60 years. Nobody had seen such a peaceful Bakri Eid in years. I would say, Modi wouldn’t have found anyone better to be at the helm of affairs.
‘Modiji has created a template for the development of Gujarat, especially in the fields of power, roads and infrastructure. The progress of the state in these fields has been enormous. And Anandiben has carried ahead the projects. She is implementing his vision.’
Q. Has the industrial growth and investment in Gujarat helped the Muslim community there?
A. Yes, the entire state has progressed, and the Muslims have progressed along with everyone else. Today, the Muslims are very happy with Modi. In 2012, 33% Muslims voted for Modi. Would they have done that if they would have feared persecution or would have not found opportunities of growth with him?
Moreover, you have to understand that you can’t remain in confrontation or agitation mode all the time. The government doesn’t belong to either Muslims or Hindus. It is not possible for 65 lakh Muslims to not stay in communication with the government. There cannot be an air of distrust. There has be constant talk. How can these 65 lakh remain in hostility? My aim is to become a bridge between the Muslim community and the government. As more as more time passes, people have realised that the fear of persecution of Muslims is unfounded. Especially after Narendra Modi’s Saudi Arabia visit, all the speculations about troubles to Muslims have been put to rest.
Q. How safe is Gujarat today in terms of communal harmony?
A. There was a time when there were problems between Hindus and Muslims. Not any more. The worst phase of fear was in the 1980s. In 1990s, the Ramjanmabhoomi issue had created a very insecure environment. Ahmedabad was an epitome of ghettoisation, segregation. When we used to stay in Gujarat, even if someone asked me to go to Ghatlodia, I would dread it. I would never go. But today, you will find Hindu youths hanging around in the non-vegetarian restaurants of Johapura. You will see a lot of Muslim women and Muslim families frequenting C.G. Road, S.G. Road, Ghatlodia. Today, you would find Muslim plumbers, electricians servicing many houses in Ahmedabad.
There are no hostile conditions. Even malls in Ahmedabad have prayer rooms now, so people can go and offer namaz. People have realised that governments cannot win votes on the basis of religious affiliations and rhetorics. There has to be a clear agenda of good governance.
Q. Recently, there have been controversies about Yoga, saying “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, the beef issue. What is your take on it?
A. These are needless controversies generated by people with vested interests to create communal tension in the country. They are not real problems. If you roam around the streets of India, you will realise, there are no insecurities, no tensions.