The issue concerning the eviction of the Punjabi farmers of the Kutch area of Gujarat was very much in the knowledge of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal but he made no sincere efforts to get it resolved with his Gujarat counterpart and close friend, Narendra Modi.
Disclosing this to HT here on Friday, National Commission for Minorities (NCM) member, Ajaib Singh, claimed that a delegation of the affected farmers had met Badal at Chandigarh last year and had urged him to get the issue resolved by talking with Modi.
"This fact was brought to my notice when I visited Gujarat and the Kutch province in June. The affected farmers told me that they had explained in detail the entire issue to Badal, who had promised to talk to Modi," claimed the NCM member, who, along with his family, was on a private visit to the city.
Ajaib Singh maintained that the meeting with Badal took place after the Gujarat government decided to appeal in the Supreme Court against the verdict of the 3-member bench of the Gujarat high court, which had decided the case in favour of the farmers. Had Badal made sincere efforts, Modi government wouldn't have appealed in the apex court, he maintained.
The case before the apex court is scheduled to come up for hearing on August 27. According to the details collected by the NCM, around 1,000 Punjabi families of Kutch were served the eviction notices in 2010 under the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act. Taking the plea of this Act, the government froze their agricultural land accounts as a result they cannot even avail of farm loans. A majority of them had settled in Kutch around in 1965 and turned this barren area into a fertile tract.
No Akali leader visited Kutch
Referring to his interaction with the Kutch farmers, Ajaib Singh said that Badal asked Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, a senior Akali leader, to visit Kutch and take up the issue with Modi.
"It was all lip assurance, as neither Ramoowalia nor Badal visited Gujarat to highlight the plight of the farmers. I have my doubts that Badal has ever raised this issue with Modi or with the BJP's senior leadership," he claimed, while pointing out that this was told to him by the farmers themselves.
According to the NCM member, Badal did not even care to raise the matter when Modi, after becoming the BJP's campaign committee chairman, visited Madhopur in June. Badal then could have impressed upon Modi to withdraw the petition from the apex court, he added.
Ajaib Singh, who was instrumental in bringing to the fore the plight of the Kutch farmers, had written a letter to Badal after coming back from Gujarat. In the letter he too had urged the Punjab CM to take up the matter with Modi, as the two had good relations.
Hits back at BJP for calling him communal
The NCM member regretted that certain sections of the BJP were accusing him of communalising the issue. In this context he referred to Punjab BJP chief Kamal Sharma's recent statement. He urged Sharma and his party colleagues to impress upon Modi to withdraw the case from the apex court. He categorically stated that his intention was never to politicise or communalise the issue as his only concern was to get the matter concerning a minority community resolved amicably.
Faced 'threats' from Modi
Ajaib claimed that Gujarat chief minister 'threatened' him when a delegation of Kutch farmers met him a couple of days back. "I will not be cowed down by such threats and will continue my fight for the farmers," he said.
Referring to the feedback he got from the farmers after their meeting with Modi, he said that they categorically told him that they were very much a part of Gujarat and they will not leave their lands. Modi spoke to them even in Gujarati and they replied back in the same language, he added.
The NCM member also intends writing to all leading industrial houses and to all industrial-trade organisations to come forward and save the farmers and their families, whose only means of livelihood is under threat. "They can do this by categorically telling Modi that they will not setup industry on land which belonged to farmers, as the Gujarat government plans setting up industry after evicting the farmers," he said.