By Our Representative
In an unusual move, the powerful non-political farmers’ organization, Khedut Samaj Gujarat (KSG), has thrown its weight behind the Congress, declaring on Wednesday that it would take out 2,000 km long motorbike rally from South Gujarat’s Bhilad to North Gujarat’s Amirgadh via Saurashtra to campaign for the “ouster” of the BJP government in the state.
“Farmers form 52% of the electorate, and they are extremely unhappy the manner in which the state BJP rulers have treated them”, Sagar Rabari, who heads the KSG, told newspersons in Ahmedabad. “Our 14-day rally will start on November 17″, he said, adding, “About 100 motorbikes will move from one place to another, addressing farmers’ meetings, and asking them not to vote for the BJP which has ruled the state for 22 years.”
Rabari’s open opposition to BJP follows a KSG-sponsored well-attended dialogue, in which hundreds of farmers directly interacted with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on November 3 in Valsad, South Gujarat.
“While Gandhi gave us time for interaction, where farmers put forward their demands, when we approached BJP president Amit Shah for a similar discussion, our KSG leaders were put under house arrest. I had to talk with the Election Commission office to ensure their release”, he said.
The major demands put forward by KSG before Gandhi included abrogation of the Gujarat land acquisition law, which seeks to undermine consent and social impact assessment clauses of the 2013 land acquisition Act of the Centre, and abrogation of the Special Investment Region law, which seeks to impose town planning norms on agricultural land by imposing a 50% land acquisition in the name of infrastructure development.
“We sought firm assurance from Gandhi that he would allow farmers’ right to protest by taking out rallies and dharnas, something denied to us by the BJP rulers, and he readily agreed that the basic democratic rights of the people cannot be violated in any manner”, Rabari said, adding, “Other demands included 24 hour power and debt waiver”.
Rabari further said, “We have concrete example on how waters from the Narmada dam meant for irrigation is being diverted to industry. The Vallabhipur branch canal of the Narmada project has a capacity of receiving 2,200 cusecs of water. However, it receives just 900 cusecs.”
“Worse, of this, the farmers get only 500 cusecs of the canal waters for irrigation, while the rest is claimed to be diverted as drinking water,” he said, adding, “We suspect that the water is being diverted to industry, to different state-owned industrial estates operating in the region. This should stop immediately.”
KSG has been in the forefront in the struggle against special investment regions (SIRs), leading to downsizing or completely put off the decision for having SIRs.
Rabari clarified, “Our decision not to vote for the BJP does not mean that, if the Congress comes to power, we will stop fighting for farmers’ cause. On the contrary, our struggle for farmers will continue.”