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Face of the Gujarat riots

'I do not want to be a symbol of terrorism'

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A decade on, Qutubuddin Ansari continues to remain the face of the Gujarat riots. His teary-eyed image of 2002, pleading with the security forces to save his life with folded hands, has been used by everybody, from political parties to rights activists and even terrorists. A tailor by profession, Ansari used to work for a boutique from where Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi sourced his trademark kurtas. Ahead of the assembly elections, Ansari tells TOI-Crest why Modi's Sadbhavana does not appeal to him and why he's disillusioned with political parties.

Narendra Modi has been projected as one of BJP's prime ministerial candidates for the 2014 elections. Should he become prime minister?


(Thinks about the question, shakes his head to indicate no, smiles. ) He is not fit for this job. This country needs a level-headed man as prime minister. India needs someone who takes decisions after clearly thinking out each issue. Modi takes decisions quickly. Look at what happened to those living in Naroda Patiya. They did not have the slightest idea of what was going to happen to them when they went to sleep on the night of Godhra train carnage. This happened because Modi decided to bring the bodies to Ahmedabad without proper security.

Would you vote for a Muslim candidate standing from the BJP?


No, we have always voted for the Congress and I see no reason to change now. Although, I don't think any party has done anything to improve the condition of Muslims in Gujarat. We will vote for the Congress because it is a habit that will not change.

What does true 'sadbhavana' mean to you?


A sense of brotherhood between people of all kinds.

And Modi's 'Sadbhavana' ?


That is just politics. If he really wants sadbhavana with Muslims, why did he refuse to accept the skullcap offered by a maulvi during his Sadbhavna fast last year? More than Modi, I am upset with the maulvi for going on stage and offering the skullcap. Modi keeps propagating sadbhavana, but in reality, his government does not care for us. I applied for compensation for damages to my property during the Godhra riots. As I was not in Ahmedabad immediately after the riots, I could not apply in 2002 or get the damage assessed in time. When I applied last year, a couple of officials visited my place, but I didn't hear from them again. I kept visiting the district collector's office, but I was told not to harass the officials. I am not asking for any additional benefit, just Rs 70, 000. That is the value of the loss of property I suffered. (Tears roll down his cheek. )

Have you been approached by political parties in any way in recent months?


Friends and acquaintances tried to convince me to attend Modi's Sadbhavna fast last year saying it was an attempt at reconciliation;that it was for a good cause. I refused as I felt going to the fast venue would have been a betrayal of those who had stood by me during the Godhra riots. Political parties ask me to attend their events and I have steadfastly refused. In fact, I have been forced to curtail my social life. When I attend public functions, even those which are not political, leaders insist I sit with them on stage. This makes me uncomfortable. Remember, I have to bring up two children in Gujarat. Anonymity is best.

Political parties had rushed to help you after the 2002 riots. Why do you stay away from them now?


They just use you for political gain. Over the years, political parties used my photo on posters and banners during elections in West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra without my consent. Politicians use my photo to project themselves as protectors of Muslims. This puts not only me but even my family members in trouble.

How is that?


When my photograph is prominently used in public functions, people call up to ask if I have been paid royalty. This is ridiculous. I don't get a penny. I am not even asked. Besides, my business is badly affected. I used to get stitching contracts from prestigious brands. But, when they came to know who I am, they started cancelling contracts over one pretext or another. Nobody wants to associate himself with a controversial man. I have been forced to work out of my home because no one will employ me. Only I know how I make ends meet.

You object when people publish your photograph of 2002.


Yes, because the photograph is used in contexts that make me very uncomfortable. For instance, after the 2008 serial blasts in Ahmedabad, it was used by terrorists online to justify the violence. I do not want to be a symbol of terrorism.

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