A DISCREET business deal is taking shape over a petrol pump located on the outskirts of Godhra,in a place called Alindra. Nitin Pathak alias Kakul Pathak,a key witness in the Sabarmati Express burning,is on the verge of signing a business partnership with Razzak Dungaria,an accused in the train carnage case out on bail,to run a petrol pump.
In Godhra,such deals have a name: Ram-Rahim business models. The government may be doing little to bridge the gap between Hindus and Muslims in the epicentre of the Gujarat riots,but pure economics has found a way. Though still rare,business ventures between Hindus and Muslims here are on the rise.
Apart from being a key witness in the train carnage,Pathak is also a BJP office-bearer. He and partner Dungaria have been business associates in the past. However,2002 changed that,forcing the two to end their association in the transport business.
Today Godhra is full of little-known entrepreneurs like Dinesh Popatlal Shah and Hussain Kochaba,who have begun a new venture in real estate; and Babakhan Pathan and Kanu Bharwad,who are building apartments in Hindu-dominated Bamroli road. Harzil Vimanwala and Daxesh Shah are together in a stone-crushing business,while Elias Bhatuk and Manoj Sindhi are in construction and land broking. Dr Ali Vandeliwala is trying to set up a hospital in a Hindu locality.
Firdos Kothi,a businessman and president of the Ghanchi Muslim Samaj Panch that was formed in 2004 to propagate peace between the two communities,said business and economic partnerships were one way of ensuring lasting peace. I would say there is a sea change,and it is based on the fact that hostility doesnt bring any good to anyone,be it Hindu or Muslim. In business your religion doesnt work, said Kothi,who runs a steel factory.
The composition of the Godhra municipality,once a flashpoint between Hindus and Muslims,is another case in point. In 2002,it was a Muslim-dominated body with Congress-supported Independents. Now the BJP rules it with support of Muslim members who fought independently.
VHP members and Muslim leaders have been working together to sort out touchy social issues. Even Ashish Bhatt,a past president of the VHP,acknowledges an improved equation between the communities.
However,not everyone in the town thinks all is well or that economics should be the benchmark for the deep social divide that runs down the towns middle. It is not brotherhood but hype created by followers of Chief Minister Narendra Modi thats behind this,they say.
Yakub Bhatuk,a 62-year-old senior lawyer and former Congress city president,called the change superficial. Over the years,the polarisation between Hindus and Muslims has increased, according to him. From outside,it seems peaceful. But within,there is fear.