Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa on Sunday appealed to BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to withdraw the Gujarat government's appeal in the Supreme Court against the Gujarat high court's unanimous decision in favour of Sikh farmers facing displacement from their land holdings in the Kutch region.
In an open letter to the Gujarat chief minister, coinciding with his rally in Delhi, Bajwa accused Modi of dividing the country on religious and regional lines. "Sikhs and other farmers of the Punjab origin have won the legal battle in the Gujarat high court and so the Modi government should now withdraw the case from the Supreme Court to prove that the BJP's prime ministerial candidate has secular credentials," he wrote.
Bajwa reminded Modi of "the hapless state of Gujarat Sikh farmers in Kutch district, who were asked to go back 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 the Gujarat government".
Bajwa said the official letter from the office of the district collector of Kutch on October 22, 2010, which instructed the tehsildars to freeze the agricultural accounts of all farmers who were "outsiders" from Gujarat, was discriminatory and arbitrary. Bajwa further wrote: "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 1965 war with Pakistan, the-then prime minister, late Lal Bahadur Shastri, invited farmers from undivided Punjab to come and settle in Kutch to make the land there cultivable and help guard the country's borders."
At Shastri's invitation, Bajwa said, more than 1,000 families from Punjab and Haryana had migrated to Kutch and bought land from the locals there with all requisite legal requirements such as stamp duty, becoming lawful owners of the property.