Cornered Kutchi Sikhs turn heat on Modi

The issue of the displacement of Sikh farmers from Kutch is proving to be a political hot potato for Gujarat chief ministerNarendra Modi with the North American Punjabi Association recently writing to US PresidentBarack Obama and senators to continue with the policy of not granting a visa to him.

Given Modi’s national ambitions, and the fact that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is a crucial ally of the BJP, the salvo from America was enough to spark jitters in an establishment already seen as being hostile to other minorities.

Surender Singh Bhullar, leader of the Sikh farmers in Kutch, told TOI the Gujarat administration had frozen the land holdings of nearly 1,000 farmers since 2010 by invoking a populist law passed in 1973 under the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act 1948. The Act bans the sale of agriculture land in Gujarat to people who are not traditional agriculturists in the state.

Sikh farmers hold 20,000 acres of land in Kutch and have turned the barren land green through their hard work. Bhullar said about 10,000 farmers from Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana had come to Kutch at the invitation of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri after the 1965 Indo-Pak war to settle in Kutch since this would help in development of the region and in guarding the border with Pakistan.

Last June the Gujarat HC had termed the state government’s policy discriminatory. Bhullar said the Modi government should have honoured the HC order instead of approaching the Supreme Court.

Besides the SAD, various political and farmer outfits across Punjab and the Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee have promised help to the Sikh farmers. Sources said the issue was also being played up by the media across Canada, which has a sizeable Punjabi population.

In June, National Commission of Minorities member Dr Ajaib Singh had visited Kutch and asked the state government to honour the HC verdict in the matter and withdraw the case filed by it in the Supreme Court.

Blaming the Congress for the plight of Punjabi farmers in Gujarat, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Monday said in 1973 it was a Congress government that had banned any agriculturist from outside Gujarat from purchasing agricultural land in the state.