SANJAY PANDEY & ANOOP KAYARAT
If you're looking for signs that Gujarat's the most saffronised of all states, take the highway. Better still, just roam around the congested streets of Ahmedabad.
This is no hidden agenda of the Sangh Parivar. It's all out in the open in Gujarat. Signboards proclaiming India as a 'Hindu Rashtra' can be found all over the state and they don't merit a second look from the authorities.
"Karnavati city of this Hindu Rashtra welcomes you", proclaims a board painted in saffron in the heart of Ahmedabad. For those wondering what Karnavati is, it's what the VHP chooses to call Ahmedabad.
In Chhota Udepur, 200 km south of Ahmedabad, the signboard on the highway is more direct. It simply says: "Welcome to Hindu Rashtra's Chota Udepur town".
These signboards are one legacy of almost five years of BJP rule. While the party let's it be known that it doesn't have anything to do with the 'hidden agenda' of the Sangh Parivar, it has had no qualms in allowing scores of such boards to be put up all over Gujarat.
Even the Congress, which came back to power in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) two years ago, is dragging its feet on pulling these boards down, despite a directive to this effect issued by new state Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela recently.
A freshly painted board on a crossroad outside Shahpur Gate proclaims the roundabout to be 'Kashi Vishwanath Chowk'. Most billboards in the name of VHP, Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini begin with their cause being dubbed variously as Dharamraksha, Rashtraraksha or Gauraksha.
A board at Kalupur, while welcoming people to "Karnavati city of Hindu Rashtra", goes a step further: "Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain".
Bajrang Dal (Gujarat) convenor Ranchodbhai Bharwad said that Vaghela did have not any moral right to ask for the removal of boards. "He himself inaugurated these billboards during his days with the BJP," he pointed out. He went to add that the Bajrang Dal did not require anybody's permission before installing these boards.
In Vadodara, the boards say "Hindu Rashtra welcomes you to Vadodara Nagar". "At present, Vadodara has about five to six boards at entry points to the city. We have now asked our workers to put up similar boards in localities that don't have them," says VHP's Vadodara chief Ajay Pandya.
The BJP-Samata-controlled Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), however, said that it had not given permission to any party to put up such boards. "We have not given any permission to any party to put up such boards. However, if the signboards are on private property, we cannot do anything," VMC commissioner Arvind Agarwal said.
The boards have come up in the rural areas of Vadodara along the highway which leads to Mumbai as well as other state highways. When asked, superintendent of police Piyush Patel said, "The boards may not be strictly legal. It is unlikely they would have obtained permission for putting up the boards."
Apart from the VHP, there are also cases of locals painting walls with slogans. In Kasar Falia in the Kothi area of Vadodara, for instance, locals have painted a wall with a slogan in Marathi that reads: "Shivrayache ami santan, Desh amcha Hindustan, Khabardar yal pudhe tar, Ubharun taku kabarastan" (We are children of Shivaji, Our country is Hindustan, Dare not come forward or we will send you to the graveyard).