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Gujarat elections: In Godhra, GST a pressing concern, 2002 a bad memory

The two rail coaches stand beside the tracks on Godhra station, their doors sealed with barbed wire. The small board has faded and you can hardly see “Sabarmati” written on it. Creepers have grown on the sides of the coaches. All that is left of one coach is just the iron structure inside. Almost 16 years after this bustling town in Panchmahal district became the epicentre of 2002 Gujarat carnage, Godhra has moved on and is desperate to forget the incident. Ibrahimbhai, a mobile phone salesman near the railway station, says, “It’s a bad memory. It is past. We are all co-existing peacefully. Hindus have different mohallas and Muslims live on the other side. Even different castes in Hindus have separate colonies. We live separately but have same concerns – education for our children, better healthcare and improved economic conditions.” Employment is not a problem here but the trading community has been hit with the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST). “We are very innovative. Most people are self-employed over generations,” says Ibrahimbhai, whose brothers own small factories making wooden dandiyas and rolling pins and boards. Arif, another factory owner who sells his rolling pin to wholesale dealers in Hyderabad and Secunderabad for `11 a piece, says, “We have stayed afloat through the riots, demonetisation and now GST. But it is increasingly getting tough.” For the past one year, Arif has had a lot to complain about. “We are a cash-driven small three-room factory. We were throttled by notebandi (demonetisation). Just when we were recovering, GST was implemented. Our dealers do not have enough business. Market is down. So though the price remains the same we have not been selling as much for days now,” he says. The factories are concentrated in the Muslim part of Godhra. Drive towards the Hinduinhabited colonies and you will find the roads dotted with mid-range eateries, rest houses, hotels and government offices. There is a stark difference in the civic amenities and election issues as well. While Muslims inhabiting the western part of the crowded town speak about no water supply, squalor and lack of English-medium schools, Hindus living in the eastern side cite healthcare as a prime concern. Karmabhai, who owns a small refreshment shop in the main bazar, says, “We want better healthcare. Godhra is the centre where even people from neighbouring tribal-dominated areas come to. We have a shortage of doctors. You cannot step inside the government hospital. It is so dirty.” Traditionally, this Muslim-dominated constituency – Muslims comprise 53% of the electorate – has been a Congress bastion. However, this time it is witnessing a keen contest. Sitting Congress MLA CK Raulji has crossed over to BJP. The Congress has fielded Rajendrasinh Patel and is depending on its traditional vote bank to pull the party through. In 2012, Raulji had won the seat with a narrow margin of 2,800 votes. The Congress is banking on this, caste dynamics and Raulji’s “deception” to swing the election.

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