Even as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was holding a public rally here, the Congress’s Punjab State unit, led by Partap Singh Bajwa, raised the issue of “discrimination [of] and injustice” to Sikhs living for over half a century in the Kutch region of Gujarat.
Mr. Modi is “dividing the citizens of the nation on religious and geographical lines,” Mr. Bajwa said, while drawing attention to the attempts by the Gujarat government to evict the Sikh farmers of Kutch to make the land available to the Adanis to build a seaport.
In a letter, Mr. Bajwa asked Mr. Modi to withdraw an appeal filed by the Gujarat government in the Supreme Court against the Gujarat High Court’s unanimous decision in favour of these Sikh farmers facing displacement. He reminded Mr. Modi that the Sikh farmers in Kutch district had been asked to return to Punjab after they were declared non-agriculturists on account of a flawed interpretation of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Land (Vidarbha Region and Kutch Area) Act 1958 by officials of the Gujarat government.
Mr. Bajwa said that the letter issued by the office of the District Collector of Kutch on October 22, 2010, instructing the tehsildars to freeze the agricultural accounts of all the farmers who, in its opinion, are “outsiders” was discriminatory and arbitrary.
In his letter, Mr. Bajwa has written: “It is imperative that the historical context is kept in mind while addressing this issue that has the potential of fragmenting our country on narrow and parochial lines. Post the 1965 war with Pakistan, Respected Former Prime Minister Late Sh. Lal Bahadur Shastri invited farmers from the undivided Punjab to come and settle in the district of Kutch in Gujarat hoping that the Sikh farmers would make the land cultivable and help in guarding the country’s border.”
Mr. Shastri’s invitation saw more than a thousand families from Punjab and Haryana migrating to Kutch, where they purchased land from locals, Mr. Bajwa said, and complied with all the requisite legal requirements, with revenue records of the State government showing the farmers to be the lawful owners of the land in question. These farmers, he added, are now residents, ration cardholders and voters in Gujarat.
The PCC decided to highlight this issue after the Shiromani Akali Dal, to whom the Kutch Sikh farmers first appealed, accepted Mr. Modi’s explanation that there were only 28 Sikh families (whose interests he would take care of) and the rest were “outsiders.” In fact, 28 Sikhs had filed a petition on behalf of all the affected families against the government order seeking to evict them all. The Congress has alleged that the SAD, an ally of the BJP, did not want to probe too deeply into the matter.