It was also an Independence Day celebration albeit of a different kind.
Far away from the 24 7 media and far away from the usual rhetoric one witnesses on any such date it was effectively people’s celebration which was resisted by the state at every level. Held at a non descript village called Dalod around 150 kilometers from Ahmedabad the state capital, it was attended by around 15,000 men and women, old and young, according to conservative estimates, .
There was unprecedented police patrolling and barricades on all roads leading to village Dalod and people coming to the flag hoisting were being stopped. One can easily guess that if the state would not have gone out of the way to thwart the programme, and had not cancelled the initial permission to hold it in Hansalpur, – where the Maruti Suzuki plant is supposed to come up – more than 50,000 people could have easily reached there. The celebration was attended by delegations from other groups waging a struggle against land acquisition in their areas, such as from Mahua (against the Nirma cement plant led by politician-activist Kanubhai Kalsaria), from Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar (against the nuclear power project), the Junagadh by-pass road etc. who came there to show their solidarity.
News of such a large gathering of the people of Mandal-Becharaji inside Gujarat who are opposed to Modi’s pro corporate vision of development did not get much coverage in the media. As expected Narendra Modi, who had made a big issue of his own independence day speech in Kutch on a college ground, wherein he challenged the Prime Minister to join the debate did not refer to this other speech which had already ‘joined’ the debate with him in its own way.
Any close watcher of the situation on the ground would vouch the debate unfolded itself in a very quick way.
It all started when the Gujarat government decided to develop massive Maruti Suzuki plant at village Hansalpur and develop adjoining Mandal-Becharaji as SIR (Special Investment Regions) which would have affected 44 villages of Ahmedabad, Mehsana and Surendranagar districts and covered 50885 hectares of land. As per government plans, around 50,885 hectares land of these 44 villages was to be acquired for the proposed SIR. This includes pastoral land and wasteland. It may be added that the region is part of Narmada Command areas and centre of cumin, psyllium, cotton, wheat, rice, pearl millet and castor cultivation. Under the proposed Mandal-Becharaji SIR, 44 villages were losing all their lands.
The local people questioned this ‘development’ and decided to jointly struggle against land acquisition. The agitation encompassed various non-violent methods which included numerous village level meetings, at least 3 large gatherings, a Tractor Rally from village Vithlapur to Gandhinagar (Narendra Modi faces a ‘Singur’ in Gujarat, Maruti Suzuki targeted, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/narendra-modi-faces-a-singur-in-gujarat-maruti-suzuki-targeted/1130618/) and several rounds of submissions of memoranda. Looking at the strength of the agitation the Chief Minister met and assured the leaders of the agitation that by 15th August they will get back with some positive news as to the Mandal-Bechraji SIR and also their other demands.
And nearly 4 months after the launch of the agitation against the Mandal-Bechraji SIR, the people tasted victory, however incomplete it yet be. The state Finance Minister, Shri Nitin Patel, declared in a press conference on 14 th August that the state government had decided to remove 36 villages from the Mandal-Bechraji SIR, retaining 8 villages. Although it was an incomplete victory since the demands of the agitation viz. withdrawal of the SIR notification, removal of the Maruti Suzuki Company and reversing the process of de-commanding of the Narmada command area are yet pending. Despite this the organisers of the movement a coalition called “Jaag’ (Jameen Adhikar Aandolan -Gujarat ) and a local organization Azad Vikas Sangathan, welcomed it because this was the first time in the last 12 years that the state government had to give in to the demands of the people owing to massive show of strength and their unprecedented solidarity in the face of machinations of the government. It was clear that the government had to bow before the widespread support the movement received from all sections of society, media, civil society leaders and activists, intellectuals and academicians.
It was decided to take up further programme in consultation with the people of the area. According to the organisers there were two lessons that come out very glaringly after this ‘victory’.
A) Farmers have seen through the ‘development’ gimmick of the government and are not going to fall prey to those platitudes, falsehoods and hype.
B) Industry and corporate leaders need to understand the local mood and anger before inking the MOUs and not be misled by the government’s false assurances.
The Independence Day celebrations held at Dalod were not only to celebrate the victory of the people but were also a part of further resolve to continue the struggle till all their demands were met.
Postscript : Everybody knows that Modi’s independence day speech –which was resented by a section of his own party people – has evoked reactions from different quarters. Whether Modi is a ‘proverbial frog just out of the well and at a loss to find the right place for himself in the big wide world.” or a “national embarrassment” because as per social indices, Gujarat has the highest school dropout rate, high malnutrition deaths compared to other states and low availability of safe drinking water or a man whose “abrasive hunger for power has no limits” or a man “India waits”, the debate would go on for a while among his critics and admirers and possibly exacerbate in the year 2014.
But what seems certain about Modi is that there is a great hiatus between what he claims and what he does which rather vindicates his opponents charge that he is a ‘feku’. If one were to refer to the RTI replies to his pre-poll promises, it shows that they were just a sham. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Ahmedabad/RTI-nails-Narendra-Modi-on-pre-poll-promises/Article1-1106260.aspx?hts0021). People would very well remember how Modi had held one day fast in each district of the state as part of his Sadbhavna Mission supposedly to create harmony in the state ahead of the 2012 polls. During every such fast, he would announce handsome financial packages for each district for development works. However, a year later, RTI responses from all the 26 districts revealed that none has received any funds as promised by Modi. The said RTI queries had been filed by Gujarat Parivartan Party which says that he had announced packages totalling Rs. 39,769 crore for all districts. Significantly, the state finance department and general administration department allegedly feigned ignorance about any special financial package for any district.