Gujarat Goblin And The Sikh Scapegoat
Like a piece of ice on a hot stove,those who heeded a national calling must now stew in their own melting. Ask the sikh farmers of Kutch in Gujarat what it feels like to be invited and lionized one moment and shunned and gunned the other. And therein lies a pathetic tale of an indifferent state and a leadership which continues to play political poker with persevering Punjabis who chose to make the inhospitable Kutch their home.
Loria, a small rural inhabitation in Kutch was in the news recently when two sikh landowning farmers were attacked.Unknown to them,their land was being surveyed by a private but government authorized surveyor. When they reached post-haste to enquire they were attacked by a mob led by a local BJP leader and injured, a published news report said. While the attackers complaint was taken, the police was reluctant to register an FIR on behalf of the victims.It took prodding from a member of the Minority Commission before the cops relented but nevertheless ensured a cross-complaint. Loria,is just 15 kms from the district headquarters of Bhuj.
Kutch in 1964 was not the big business paradise that it is in the post-earthquake today.In 1964 it was a salt flat rann bordering Pakistan,the second largest district in the country after Ladakh where nothing grew.It was the harshest possible place to live with cattle outnumbering humans and they would also flee in summer.Water was the most precious commodity and land in the far flung saltflats went abegging even at Rs 1000 an acre.Today you may not even get it at Rs 20 lakhs for the same size.
It was Kutch which faced the first Pakistani attack in 1964, a precursor to the 1965 war.It was in the aftermath of the 1965 attack, that the move to settle battle hardy sikh farmers/ex-servicemen from Punjab in the border areas of Kutch was taken.They were invited by the government and given what was virtually non tillable land to farm. It goes to the credit of these patriotic Indians that they rose to the challenge and over the years turned the land into a prized and valuable agri-resource and granary. It goes to their credit that they freely imparted the same agricultural expertise to the locals. Over time more people from Punjab and Haryana joined in and there was complete bonhomie .In fact the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake saw some remarkable examples of camaraderie. People from Punjab and Haryana came in large numbers to set up relief camps in the immediate aftermath of the temblor.
However the rapid industrialization that followed goaded by the central package of incentives changed things. Industrialisation made land expensive and agricultural land still dearer.Suddenly the pioneer settler was not so welcome.And the parochial politics pursued by the Narendra Modi government which ruled the state for over 12 years only widened the divide.Things began to change as the price of land rose by leaps and bounds.The BJP government added fuel to fire as the administration moved to dispossess sikh and Punjabi farmers through a plethora of administrative measures.
According to sikh farmers of the 440 acres of land allotted to them,300 acres has already been taken over by the government while other small blocks are being fraudulently registered in the name of locals.In October last year four sikh farmers were injured in an assault and the name of the BJP legislator Vasan Ahir had figured in it.
Interestingly, the dispossessed sikh farmers had knocked the doors of the Gujarat High Court against the government move and won the case but the then Modi government in the state went in appeal before the Supreme Court. The problems of the Sikh farmers in BJP led Gujarat are finding strong echoes in Punjab where it’s associate, the Shiromani Akali Dal government has to weather the attack of an aggressive Congress opposition.
Both during the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha elections of 2012 and the general elections-2014,Modi had made a lot of mollifying sounds even roping in the veteran Prakash singh Badal and promising to sort out the matter but once the polls were over, the government is back to it’s victimizing ways with local politics getting the better of humane considerations.Rajinder Kaur Bhattal,Punjab Congress leader has already gone on record to term it unfortunate and shameful on the part of the Modi government at the centre and the BJP government in Gujarat for the targeting of sikh farmers.
At one point of time last year when the North American Punjab Association(NAPA) wrote to US President Barack Obama and senators against granting visa to the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, he had reached out to Badal and flatly denied that the state government had created any pressure on the sikh farmers . He had then sought to politicize the issue terming it as a politically motivated and the handiwork of vested interests. Modi had then termed it as a fall out of the Act brought about by the Congress half a century back and a government resolution of 1973. He took shelter under the point that the matter was pending before the Supreme Court.
Interestingly sikh cultivators who made Kutch their home over half a century ago when the entire area bordering the rann and Pakistan was a water starved barren stretch,had never faced any problem all these years. It was only four years ago after agricultural land prices shot up manifold that the Gujarat government ordered a ‘freeze’ of their land under the provisions of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act,1958 barring them from selling,buying or taking any loans or subsidy on their land.
The government,in a move to dispossess them of their agricultural land rights stopped issuing certified copies of their land records. The farmers challenged the order in the Gujarat High Court and won their case.The matter now rests before the apex court.In the meantime,Modi,however has moved on but the last has not been heard in the matter and the ghost of the Kutch Sikh farmers issue will haunt Modi’s BJP in the next vidhan sabha elections in Punjab!