Sonia should apologise for Sikh farmers’ plight in Gujarat, says Akali Dal

The Shiromani Akali Dal asked the PPCC Chief Partap Singh Bajwa to secure an unconditional apology from the UPA Chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to the people of Punjab for the anti-Sikh and anti-Punjab notification on agricultural lands in Gujarat issued by her party’s government in that state in 1973.

The SAD also wanted to know why no Congress leader, including Partap Singh Bajwa, had ever taken the issue up with Gujarat Government, including those formed by the Congress party, although the problem had been lingering since 1973. In a statement here, senior Akali leader and SAD Secretary General Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said that it was Chief Minister Chiman Bhai Patel of the Congress party’s government in Gujarat who had issued the notification in 1973, denying the ownership rights of agricultural land to Sikhs and Punjabi farmers. This was just a continuation of the policies of the Congress party which could not brook the sight of Sikhs and Punjabis anywhere in the other country.

This mindset had led to the tragic climax of 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and several Congress ruled states in the country.

In an uncharacteristic aside, Dhindsa took a sharp jibe at the PPCC Chief. “We all know that when it comes to Gujarat, Bajwa somehow manages to make news for all the wrong noises. When he went to Gujarat during Captain Amarinder Singh’s regime, he made news of a highly entertaining variety. He was reportedly busy with activities which made excellent and spicy copy for the local and Punjab newspapers. Can he tell us why he did not take up the issue of Punjabi settlers there at that time, or at any time later? The problem has been there since 1973. Nor has any other Congress leader of Punjab ever taken the issue up either with any Gujarat government, including the Congress governments there, nor with their High Command.”

Dhindsa said that the issue today pertained to providing protection to roughly 248 Sikh families who had gone and settled in the Kutch areas of that state after the Pakistan armoured divisions crossed the international border during the 1965 war. He further said that out of total 784 families settled in Kutch, 245 belonged to Punjab, 88 to Gujarat and 451 from other states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and some other parts of the country. Elaborating the issue, Dhindsa said that according to the notification, no one – not even a Gujarati – non-agriculturist can purchase agricultural land in that state. Further, no outsider can purchase land, irrespective of his status as farmer. The issue now was pending before the Supreme Court. The Gujarat Government’s plea before the apex court is of a general nature and not specific to Punjabis.

Against this background, said Dhindsa, the Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal first took up the issue with his counterpart in Gujarat, Narendra Modi, over the telephone. Then at the first available opportunity provided by Modi’invitation to Badal, the latter not only met all the Punjabis agricultural settlers in Gujarat but also took them along to meet Modi on the sidelines of the Global Agriculture Summit in Gandhinagar on September 9.
Modi then gave a categorical assurance in the presence of global media that no Sikh farmers from Punjab would have to leave Gujarat at any cost. Modi went even further and said that in case any officer of his government tried to force any Punjabi settler to leave Gujarat, it won’t be the Punjabi settlers but the officer who will have to leave the state. The Gujarat Chief Minister said that Sikhs had come to Gujarat in 1965 “as defenders of Gujarat and the nation and there is no question of their being told to leave.

This has obviously unnerved the Congress, especially the PPCC chief as Modi’s assurance sharpens the contrast between the way the Congress always treat the Punjabis and the Sikhs and the way Mr. Modi is handling the sensitive issue. Dhindsa advised Bajwa to secure a belated apology from Ms. Sonia Gandhi to the Punjabis for the anti-Punjabi and anti-Sikh notification issued by her party’s government in 1973.