They became the contrasting symbols of the Gujarat riots of 2002 — Ashok Mochi representing the image of the communal rage, and Qutubuddin Ansari the helplessness of a victim confronted with fear of death.
Seventeen years on, Mochi and Ansari have taken on a different role — speaking about the state of the nation. Together they are campaigning for CPI(M) candidate P Jayarajan, who is contesting from Vatakara constituency in North Kerala.
Ansari, 44, is a tailor who was caught on camera pleading to RAF personnel for help from his home in February 2002, when the riots were at their peak in Naroda Patiya, Ahmedabad. Ashok Parmar alias Ashok Mochi, 43, is a cobbler from Ahmedabad. His picture — taken when mobs were attacking Muslims after the Godhra train burning — showed him wearing a saffron bandana, brandishing an iron rod. In 2017 Mochi joined the Dalit Azaadi Kooch in Gujarat to fight for rights of his community after the flogging of Dalits in Una.
Although the images of Mochi and Ansari have been used by political parties in elections in several states since the riots, this is the first time they are part of an election campaign. For the last two days, they have been canvassing together for Jayarajan, addressing rallies, attending programmes and delivering short speeches, which end with a call to vote for the LDF candidate.
On Wednesday, the CPI(M) deputed the duo to attend rallies at Nadapauram region in Vatakara constituency, which has a history of communal and political clashes, with the CPI(M) on one side and IUML on the other. At Bhoomivathukkal village near Nadapuram, Ansari and Mochi were greeted by slogan-shouting CPI(M) workers.
Addressing the gathering, Ansari said, “Those who are ruling the country have gone from Gujarat. We have all seen what they did in Gujarat. In the last five years, the mainstream culture of the country has undergone a change. People have been facing great difficulties. See the concern of Jayarajan for us, who live in faraway Gujarat. So, how much concern would he have for people in front of him? So, please vote for him.”
Mochi appreciated Jayarajan’s effort to bring him and Ansari to the same venue in 2014. He was referring to the first time he and Ansari shared a venue, at an event in Kerala, when Jayarajan was party district secretary in Kannur.
“The Congress and BJP are not good for our country. Both are against the poor. If there is a party that is concerned about the poor and the farmers, it is the CPI(M) only. We know what is happening in India since 2014, when BJP came to power. Innocent Muslim youths have been lynched. We have to doubt whether a Constitution exists,” Mochi said.
Jayarajan said, “I have been in touch with Ansari and Mochi since 2014. They came to my house for Vishu, hearing that I am candidate.”
With inputs from Ahmedabad