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Wali vs Modi: the tale of two poets


On 28 February 2002, a mob tore down Wali’s little tomb in Ahmedabad and dug up his grave. Overnight, the road was tarred and now no sign remains. Wali’s grave had stood outside the gate of the police commissioner’s office


Aakar Patel


Narendra Modi should fire his home minister. Ghalib acknowledged Mir Taqi Mir with this couplet: Rikhta kay tumhi ustad nahin ho, Ghalib Kehtay hain aglay zamanay may koi Mir bhi tha.


Rikhta is another name for Urdu. The couplet reads: Don’t think yourself Urdu’s only master, O Ghalib: I hear there once was another, called Mir.


Verse case: Under Modi, Wali’s tomb was destroyed. Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Ghalib died in 1869 (the year Mahatma Gandhi was born) and many see Mir, who died in 1810, as the pioneer of Urdu poetry. But did Mir acknowledge anyone before him? He did in this couplet:


Khugar nahin kuchch yoon hi hum Rikhta-goi kay/ Mashooq jo apna tha, bashindah-e-Daccan tha.


It reads: It’s not casually that I’ve been possessed by Urdu: He who was my love was that native of the Deccan. The man Mir is referring to is Wali Muhammad Wali, who died in 1707, the first poet of Urdu. Wali is called Wali Daccani because he was born in Aurangabad, but also Wali Gujarati because that is where he lived and was buried. Did Wali acknowledge an inspiration? Yes, but not a person. I translated two of his poems. One was a masnavi, Ta’arif-e-Shehr Sourat (In Praise of Surat City), the other, excerpted below, was a ghazal, Dar Firaaq-e-Gujarat (On Separation from Gujarat):

Parting from Gujarat leaves thorns in my chest


My heart—on fire!—pounds impatiently in my breast


What cure can heal the wound of living apart?


The scimitar of exile has cut deep into my heart


My feet were bound, and in sorrow


I did tire


My heart singed rapidly, like a hair over fire


Gaze into my heart and see the garden of the lover


Where the flowers of winter riot in my blood’s colour


It is with regret that in the end I see my friends depart


So rise from the empty tavern and steady yourself, my heart


And thank God’s mercy, O Wali!


He let that passion remain


The heart’s still anxious to catch a glimpse of my Gujarat again

On 28 February 2002, a mob tore down Wali’s little tomb in Ahmedabad and dug up his grave. An idol of Hulladio Hanuman (riotous Hanuman) was placed over the rubble. Overnight, the road was tarred and now no sign remains. Wali’s grave had stood outside the gate of the police commissioner’s office.


Also Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns


That morning a mob laid siege to former member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri’s house. He held them off for hours with his licensed rifle. The police arrived, led by K.G. Erda. The police fired 61 rounds at the mob. Every bullet missed. The police could not kill, wound or hit a single person. The mob kept building. Seventy-three-year-old Jafri was called down. They stripped him, cut off his fingers, paraded him bleeding and naked. Then they cut off his hands, then his legs and then his head.


Erda filed a report naming 11 people. He named two men twice by mistake. The home ministry promoted Erda to deputy superintendent.


Was this case an exception? No. On 12 April 2004, the Supreme Court sent the Best Bakery case out of Gujarat, adding a comment that “the investigating agency helps the accused...” (on Page 7 of the judgement).


After the riots, Gujarat’s home ministry closed 2,000 cases, saying it couldn’t find the accused. On 17 August 2004, the Supreme Court took over and ordered them reopened. So shoddily were they found to have been investigated that the Supreme Court sent a team under former CBI chief R.K. Raghavan to reinvestigate the cases. This time, 1,255 accused were arrested. Action was ordered against 136 police officers. Another 72 face action. Gujarat’s home ministry has been unable to take the initiative. It has taken the Supreme Court to give justice to Gujaratis.


Raghavan found that on 28 February 2002, BJP legislator Mayaben Kodnani armed and led a mob at Naroda Patiya that killed 105 Gujaratis. On 4 January 2008, Modi made her minister for women and child development and higher education.


On 27 March 2009, justice D.H. Waghela said Mayaben’s actions were “nothing less than organized crime”.


On intelligence, execution, crowd control, investigation, Gujarat’s home minister has not been competent. Who held, and still holds, Gujarat’s cabinet portfolio for home?


Narendra Modi. He is also minister for general administration, planning, administrative reforms, industries, mines and minerals, petrochemicals, ports, information and broadcasting, Narmada and Kalpsar, and science and technology.


Modi seems unaware of what his police is doing. It’s not just about the riots. On 30 April 2007, Gujarat admitted, after yet another Supreme Court intervention, that the chief of its anti-terrorist squad, D.G. Vanjhara, had executed a man, Sohrabuddin, in a contract killing. His wife Kausarbi was a witness. Vanjhara killed her too and then burnt her body. Under Modi, the police could not even find his own minister Mayaben for weeks. She fled after being charged with mass murder and surrendered after her bail was rejected.

I read out Dar Firaaq-e-Gujarat to Narendrabhai once and asked him to guess who the poet was. He could not say. When I told him, his response was that the evidence that the demolished grave was Wali’s wasn’t clinching enough for him. I translated another Gujarati poet a couple of years ago:


This earth is a beautiful place


Our eyes are so blessed


Sunlight does not spill over the lush green grass


Try as hard as you might, you can’t hold it in your hand either


The earth is a beautiful place


Our eyes are so blessed


The rest of the poem is equally appalling. These are the opening lines of Modi’s 2007 book, Aankh Aa Dhanya Chhe (Our Eyes Are So Blessed).


On his website (, Modi uses these words to describe himself: “great dreamer”; “remarkable ability”; “hard taskmaster”; “strict disciplinarian”; “amazing”; “realist”; “idealist”; “clarity of vision, sense of purpose, diligent perseverance”; “excellent organizational ability: “rich insight into human psychology”; “sheer strength of character and courage”.


He’s no poet. And he has been demonstrably incompetent at protecting Gujaratis and Gujarati heritage.


He should step down as home minister.


Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.Write to Aakar at


[email protected]

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