By Our Representative
In an unusual development, the Gujarat government on September 17 morning quickly moved to cover up with long green curtains the entire slum area on the two sides of the road leading to the Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad. Keen passersby noted that even the Dandi bridge, from where Mahatma Gandhi began his famous march towards Dandi for his historic 390-kilometres-long Salt Satyagraha in March-April 1930, was covered up with the curtains, as the slums are situated just next to the Dandi bridge. Only recently, the Dandi bridge was “repaired” and provided a “new look”.
While officials are keeping their mouth shut about the development, the reason, say observers, is simple: Visiting Chinese President Xi Jiping, on his way to the Sabarmati Ashram at 5.00 pm, should not see the “dirty side” of Ahmedabad. “All this is happening at a time when a two kilometre stretch of Sabarmati river riverfront was given a new makeup ahead of Xi’s visit, as he must have dinner with Narendra Modi in the garden of the riverfront. The coverup began on September 17 morning, probably as an afterthought”, Umakant Mankad, who shot the snaps of the coverup and sent them to Counterview, said.
This is not for the first time that a coverup of this type has happened. Those who attended the Vibrant Gujarat summits in January 2011 and January 2013 recall, a similar coverup took place on the road leading to the venue of the world business meet, Mahatma Mandir. There, the slum areas on the left hand side of the road were covered with long, white curtains. “Covering up poverty and destitution is a favourite pastime of the establishment”, said an observer, adding, “This runs parallel to the effort to cover up bitter realities of life, including the 2002 riots.”
Meanwhile, social media is abuzz with comments that such dignitaries should visit Ahmedabad more often, in fact “every week”, to quote a scribe of an Ahmedabad daily, so that at least some portions of the city, where they are supposed to travel, are kept neat and clean. Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Guruprasad Mahapatra posted photographs to showcase beautiful does Sabarmati riverfront, sold as the Gujarat model across India, has been lighted up.
When someone on the social media commented that Mahapatra needs to go not very far, just about 50 kilometres south of Sabarmati, to see how Sabarmati turns into a stinking channel, full of industrial effluents, the top IAS bureaucrat agreed that there was the “other side” of the story as well, but one shouldn’t sound “negative but optimistic.”
Meanwhile, senior human rights activist from Ahmedabad, Father Cedric Prakash, in a blog commentary said, Ahmedabad looked like a “police state” ahead of Xi’s visit. “Thousands of police everywhere! Some just sitting idle-huddled up in groups, not knowing what to do”, he said, adding, one of them told him they “really did not know” what they were supposed to do, while others “threw their weight around, questioning innocent passers-by and harassing residents who live in the societies around.”
“The poor are roped in to sweep the dirt (under the carpets) and to whitewash as much as possible and as fast as possible”, the blog said, adding, “The slumdwellers live without access to the basic amenities of life, they are being covered with huge banners. After all, no one should know or see the truth of Gujarat — just as they do so in China”. Prakash added, “There is however a great commonality or exceptional synergy” between the two – the is Tiananmen massacre in Beijing in 1989 and the Gujarat riots of 2002. “We surely do understand the bonding!”