Ashok Parmar aka Moochi, the cobbler who became the poster boy of Hindus attacking Muslims during the Gujarat riots in 2002, is not happy with the 27-year-long rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and sees a ray of hope in the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
However, he has a piece of advice for the Arvind Kejriwal-led party. “They should not talk about freebies in Gujarat,” Moochi, who is now 48, tells The New Indian in Ahmedabad.
He rose to infamy after accidentally posing for a photograph in a saffron headband and holding an iron rod in his hands during the 2002 Gujarat riots. In the photo, he wears an aggressive expression on his face.
At his tiny makeshift shop on a footpath in Old Ahmedabad, Parmar says nothing has changed for the better in his life in the last 20 years and blames the ruling BJP and opposition Congress in a single breath for the misfortune of hardworking people like him.
“That photo went viral and brought a lot of problems in my life. I even could not get married because of the situation created by the photograph,” he says.
“Everyone used me for their purposes but I never got any help from them – neither BJP nor Congress,” he expresses his disappointment.
The cobbler sees good prospects for the AAP in this Assembly election. “People are looking for an option,” he says.
Explaining his opposition to the election promise of freebies, Parmar says: “People of Gujarat are very emotional regarding their work. They never want money or any benefit without working. They will never accept free electricity and water.”
Parmar, who earns ₹300 per day, says parties should focus on quality education and healthcare, bringing inflation and unemployment rates under control.
“Education should be free for all. Had I received proper education, I would never do this menial job.”
He lost his parents a few years back and lives in his alone.
After his infamous photo in national and international media grabbed eyeballs, he was booked in a case and was sent to jail. However, he was given a clean chit as the police failed to prove his involvement in the riots.
Speaking about the picture, Parmar says he never attacked any Muslim house during the riots in 2002. “I was standing in the same lane where I am sitting right now. A journalist covering riots asked me to hold an iron rod and shout loudly,” he says.
“At that time, I was angry over the riots in my city Ahmedabad. People from both communities suffered losses. So I posed as he asked and got clicked,” Parmar fumes.
Parmar, who earlier sought unity between Muslims and Dalits, believes the BJP used Gujarat as a laboratory for its Hindutva politics.