Two survivors of the 2002 Gulberg Society massacre — Imtiyaz Pathan and Firoz Pathan — have taken the plunge into electoral politics and filed their nominations for Kheda and Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituencies in Gujarat. The brothers lost 10 family members, including their mother, in the massacre. Imtiyaz is also a prime prosecution witness in the case.
Firoz, 45, is contesting as an independent candidate from Gandhinagar constituency from where BJP national president Amit Shah is fighting the Lok Sabha election for the first time, while Imtiyaz, 42, has filed his nomination as a candidate of Apna Desh Party and has been allotted the election symbol of pressure cooker.
Incidentally, Firoz is the one who filed a case against social activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand and a few residents of Gulberg Society, alleging that they had embezzled funds collected for the riot victims of Gulberg. “We have not got justice in Gulberg (massacre case) and nobody is raising our issue. There is no minority MP who raises our issue,” said Firoz. “The situation would have been different had Jafri Saab (former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the Gulberg Society massacre by a mob) been there. So, I want to raise the issues of minorities by getting elected as an MP,” Firoz said.
On February 28, 2002, when a mob massacred as many as 69 people in Gulberg Society, which mostly housed Muslim upper middle-class business families, Firoz had been in Surat on some work entrusted to him by Jafri.
Apart from their mother, Firoz and Imtiyaz lost their elder brother, two sisters-in-law, two nieces, one nephew, an aunt, a grandmother and an uncle.
Firoz runs a cyber cafe in Relief Road area of Ahmedabad and lives along with his wife and two daughters as well as his father Saeedkhan Pathan. Speaking of his candidature in this election, Firoz said he has a group of friends in Vejalpur from various castes like Dalits, Thakors, Rabaris, Bharwads and others, with whose help he was conducting a door-to-door campaign.
The Pathans do not think that their candidatures would benefit the ruling BJP by splitting the anti-BJP votes.
“In Gandhinagar constituency, there are about 19 lakh voters. Out of them, there are hardly one lakh Muslim voters. And it is not that Muslims do not vote for the BJP. In the Assembly elections, BJP MLA Kishor Chauhan got a lot of Muslim votes. So, I do not think that it will affect the BJP,” said Firoz
Imtiyaz too spoke of being the voice of the minorities. “I feel there should be some leader who raises the voice of Muslims and minorities,” said Imtiyaz. “Today, there are leaders of every community, whether it is Dalits or Thakors. If I win the election, I will be the voice of minorities.”
Pointing out that they had been fighting for justice for the Gulberg victims for the past 15 years, he said, “The (trial) court has convicted 24 out of a total 66 (people) accused in the case. And even among the 24, only 11 have got life imprisonment. We have challenged this in the High Court and the case is on. So, I feel that if I get elected to parliament, I can raise my voice for justice in a better way.”
An electrician and air conditioner mechanic, Imityaz lives in Gomtipur area of Ahmedabad with his wife, and a son and daughter. “In fact, I wanted to contest elections from Bapunagar constituency during the 2017 Assembly elections,” Imtiyaz said. “I went to submit my form at 2.45 pm. But, it was not accepted by the officer on the ground that the time to submit the form was over.” So, this time, he is contesting the Lok Sabha elections.
“I wanted to fight from Ahmedabad (West) seat, but it is a reserved seat. So, I filed my nomination from Kheda as we have a lot of close relatives living in Nadiad, Mahemdavad and Dholka.”
A total of 69 persons were killed by a mob in the Gulberg Society massacre. The case was one of the nine post-Godhra riots cases investigated by the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team. A designated court for the case had convicted 24 out of the total 60 accused in June 2016 while acquitting 36 of them.