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Gujarat's birthday gift to Narendra Modi: arrest of Dalit, Patidar activists

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

Narendra Modi decided to be in his home state Gujarat on his 66th birthday, and the state decided to gift him a couple of arrests. The Gujarat police picked up Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani from Ahmedabad airport in the evening on 16 September, purportedly to ensure an "incident-free" visit by the prime minister.

Mevani, on his way home from Delhi, was picked up in front of his cousin, who later told the media that the police turned down his request to speak to the activist before the arrest.

Reportedly, Mevani was not the only activist to be arrested. The police also detained Patidar leader Reshma Patel and placed several others under house arrest.

Later in the day, Mevani's Facebook page was updated with this message: "Friends and well-wishers, I am technically released but still under house arrest kind of surveillance as a team of Ahmadabad Crime Branch is constantly with me. Just received the news that activist friends Shamsad Pathan and Asim sheikh are detained for raising their voice against Dadri part-2, that is killing of Mohammed Ayyub of Ahmadabad by so called cow protectors. Just go out and support them. Just go out and support Prabahtsinh of Bastar and Khurram Parvez of Kashmir. My detention is negligible, they need tremendous support."

Modi is visiting Gujarat for two days, so the detained activists are likely to be held for as long. There is speculation that these arrests were triggered by the embarrassment caused to the BJP at its chief Amit Shah's event in Surat on 8 September. The Patidars had openly protested at that event, shouting slogans against Shah and the BJP, and him showing black flags.

At Amit Shah's event in Surat on 8 September, Patidars shouted slogans and showed him black flags

In Delhi, Mevani had announced that a "rail roko" agitation will be launched in Gujarat from 1 October if the state fails to meet the demand for five acres of land to every Dalit family.

With these arrests, the BJP regime in Gujarat has clearly indicated its priorities. While a prime ministerial visit to a state is indeed a cause of concern for the state administration, preemptive arrests of non-violent activists is a dangerous trend. It betrays the insecurity of the government as well as an authoritarian tendency to muzzle voices of dissent. Seen together with the Surat protest, it also shows that the BJP is fast losing its decades-old grip on Gujarat and is resorting to even undemocratic measures to maintain its hold.

The signs for the BJP are ominous, not least because the assembly polls are due next year and the party has just effected a leadership change in the state.

Birthday bash

Modi's birthday celebrations were kick-started by his loyal lieutenant, BJP chief Amit Shah, who tweeted good wishes to the prime minister.

The BJP then officially urged everybody to wish Modi through his personal app.

Soon, Modi's twitter timeline was filled with his messages of gratitude to all those who wished him, including President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, party elder LK Advani, union ministers, and even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

The timing of Modi's visit to Gujarat is strategic. The term of the Gujarat Assembly ends on 22 January 2018, which means the next election will likely be held in late 2017. Modi's two-day stay in the state just a year ahead of the polls confirms, more than anything else, that the BJP is on a sticky-wicket there. The fiasco that was Shah's Surat rally had indicated as much. So, who else does the BJP turn to in these testing times if not the former Gujarat chief minister.

Over these two days, Gujarat will get a heavy dose of birthday celebrations for the prime minister. Modi has already made a spectacle out of his visit to mother Heeraben in Ahmedabad.

Chief Justice TS Thakur happened to be in Ahmedabad and called on Modi to wish him.

The central government's Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities organised lighting of 989 lamps in 30 seconds in Navsari - a Guinness record.

The Gujarat regime too is reportedly seeking to break a couple of world records to go with Modi's birthday celebrations. One, the record for most people in wheelchairs who form an image or logo; two, the record for giving away, at on go, the maximum number of hearing aids to people with hearing disabilities.

In Surat, a shopkeeper reportedly gifted clothes to 200 children with disabilities and 55 HIV positive children.

Surat also hit the headlines for cooking a massive birthday cake for Modi weighing 3,750 kg.

On his part, Modi addressed a rally at Limkheda in Dahod district, where he announced a few schemes for tribal development.

The celebrations were held outside Gujarat as well. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan joined in the celebrations with differently-abled children.

Union Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore led the celebrations in Jaipur, in the company of students.

And, of course, Baba Ramdev, who duly appeared with his wishes, calling Modi a "blessing" for the country.

First published: 17 September 2016, 4:43 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.