Gujarat Goblin And The Sikh Scapegoat


BY  R.K.MISRA


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!

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