They have a boat yatra planned: they want to touch base with fishing harbours from Kutch to Saurasthra, cover about a third of Gujarat’s 1,600 kilometres of shoreline.
The journey—a rally of scores of boats—is of a kind Gujarat has not witnessed before. Bhadreshwar, a fishing village with two proposed thermal power plants, near the country’s first private port owned by the Adani Group in the Mundra SEZ will host the yatris.
The fishermen, who will also have some farmers on board, get off in Jamnagar, close to the country’s first private refinery owned by the Reliance Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani Group. In the boats, the farmers-fishermen plan to carry protest flags and solidarity pamphlets—to say that the industries between the Adanis and Ambanis are either harming or ousting them from their farms and fishing areas.
The boat yatra has its genesis in another yatra: The Sadbhavna Cycle yatra of September 2011. Then, fishermen and farmers became fellow travellers on a 600-kilometre cycle yatra which, too, ran from Bhadreshwar to Jamnagar. The Kutchi fishermen have now found brothers-in-arms in an unlikely group of farmers in Mahuva, a seaside town south of Bhadreshwar in Saurashtra.
“We are not against development, but not at our cost,” says Harunbhai Wagher, an elder of the fishermen community, on why farmers and fishermen are taking out the boat yatra. “The coastline has changed, the sea is changing, our livelihoods are under threat. Instead of locals, outsiders are getting jobs here. We do not want such industries around us.”
Harunbhai echoed the common cause of the Sadbhavna cycle yatra that he and his comrades undertook with the farmers. They are confident of the boat yatra’s success, after the way communities fed and feted them in temples, halls and homes in villages and towns across Kutch and Saurashtra during the cycle yatra. The call “Jal, Jungle, Zameen, Dario Bachao” (Save Water, Forests, Land and Sea) touched a chord across the region.
It is a sentiment starkly at odds with the narrative created and incessantly chanted by the state government’s public relations machinery, which promises to turn Gujarat into versions of Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and Germany, touts impressive industrial and GSDP growth, and even brags about teaching the rest of country how it can be done.
This also contrasts with the protest yatras, crisscrossing Gujarat on boats, cycles and foot, and calling repeatedly to bachao “Jal, Jungle, Zameen, Dario”.
A 350-km padyatra in the summer of 2011 by farmers including women, from Doliya village in Mahuva to the Gujarat State Assembly set the stage for these questions. The Assembly was sitting for the budget session when they got there. They wanted to submit a memorandum to chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi. They were stopped by the police before they could reach the Assembly. Most of them were arrested, but a handful were allowed to meet the chief minister for a short time.
The Mahuva farmers were battling the giant Nirma group’s cement plant proposal inked in a Vibrant Gujarat MoU (memorandum of understanding signed at the Gujarat government’s biennial investment mela). The group, famous for its detergent brand, wanted to set up a cement and captive coke and power plant in Mahuva. A reservoir built under the government-funded Salinity Ingress Protection Plan was the proposed cement plant site. The state government went along with Nirma, denying that there ever existed a sweet water reservoir when the farmers went to court.
The Mahuva-Gandhinagar padaytra was the kind of protest march Gujarat had not witnessed for more than a decade. The last one, and perhaps the one that started it all, had taken place in 2001. Farmers from Okhamandal had taken out a rally to oppose the proposed SEZ at Positra. The plan was scrapped. A decade later, farmers across the state, all affected by land allotments for industry, have forged a movement to help each other if an industrial user encroaches upon their land.
Unbelievable as it may sound to most in and outside Gujarat, the refrain “development, but not at our cost” is growing in cadence particularly along the 1,600 kilometres of coastline, the longest of any Indian state.
The farmers from Zarpara in Kutch protesting against Adani; those from Jamnagar with a case against Reliance; from Porbandar’s Mocha village who took on BJP leader Babu Bokhariya, from Hazira against the Special Investment Region; from Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar against the proposed nuclear power plant; from Veraval, Valsad, Navsari, Vapi, Dholera, Sanand, Badarkha and Ahmedabad, all sent representatives to join the Mahuva protest.
Unbelievable as it may sound to most in
and outside Gujarat, the refrain “development, but not at our cost” is
growing in cadence particularly along the 1,600 kilometres of coastline,
the longest of any Indian state.
This coastline is the address of Asia’s largest refinery built by Reliance in Jamnagar, Essar’s petrochemical complex in Hazira, the country’s first private port and SEZ of the Adani group in Mundra, the first petrochemical handling port in Dahej, along with cement plants, power plants and other industries from Kutch to Saurashtra as well as south Gujarat.
The south Gujarat coast is infamous for the moratorium on three big chemical industrial estates, which were responsible for leeching untreated chemical waste into the farmlands and the Arabian sea.
The dominant presence of the industries, hailed as growth engines, advertises Gujarat and chief minister Modi’s image. Last month, the state government’s official website and hoardings all over the state hailed the “Business and Development Icon” after the Asian edition of Time magazine did a cover story on Modi.
There is another pretty picture that guarantees both eyeballs and footfalls: Amitabh Bachchan, in a predictably colourful Kutchi costume, hardselling the pristine whiteness of the Kutch desert.
One can’t fault the actor, who is also Gujarat Tourism’s brand ambassador, or the ad gurus, for some deft picture editing to mask certain uncomfortable realities. To present the picture of a solemnly ethereal—and hopefully—tourist dollar-inviting barrenness, the long stretches of smoke spewing industries, huge windmills, high tension power lines, roadways and rail tracks lined with plastic wastes, grimy Punjabi dhabas and trucks, tankers and containers have to remain off-frame.
Bachchan could lip sync the pitch for Sabarmati Ashram, Somnath Temple, Gir lions, but did not get the brief to do that for the Gulf of Kutch’s Marine National Park and Sanctuary, the only one in Gujarat, and now increasingly surrounded by industry from all sides.
It is no surprise that these padyatris, cycle yatris and boat yatris don’t buy the glossy hardsell of Gujarat’s growth and Modi’s development acumen.
As you drive to the much advertised Khadir, with its rolling, mysterious salt desert and the many migratory birds, or the Banni grasslands, signboards of Vibrant Gujarat stare at you everywhere. At Samakhiali, the gateway to Kutch district, the highway toll booth is dwarfed by transport offices, industry frontage and various dhabas. And giant windmills propelled by breeze coming from the Arabian sea in the Gulf of Kutch.
“You can give all this development, the industries, pollution and smoke a miss,” says Illesh Vyas, a veteran visitor from the “mainland” to Kutch, “if you’re air-dropped into that beautiful saucer from the mainland.” Kutch, a forgotten, backward district, was jerked into official reckoning after the devastating 2001 earthquake which killed 20,000 people.
of rural Gujarat and its coastline have turned vocal and are rebutting
the development claims that the Gujarat Information and Broadcasting
Department and a sizeable chunk of the media repeats with monotonous
frequency. In its various forms, the message is: “Gujarat is growing as
it never had and neither has any other part of India and all this is
possible due to the acumen of Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister
for the last decade.”
“Vibrant Gujarat” has terrific brand recall thanks to the headlines, hoardings and industry ratings that routinely underline its phenomenal growth in the last decade. Laudatory excerpts in such vein from Time’s cover story are practically everywhere, more so in the inboxes of regular media consumers.
Let’s admit right away that it’s not all talk. The Tatas chose Gujarat over other states because of the sops the government offered for the Nano plant. Maruti arrived in Mehsana, and Ford and Peugeot followed. If this was not impressive enough, there was Reliance expanding its Jamnagar refinery, and the Adani Group chalking out newer plants after its phenomenal rise over two decades on the Kutch ports.
The chorus started by industrialists Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal even discovered prime ministerial abilities in Modi at one Vibrant Gujarat meet. No advertising agency could have improved on what Ratan Tata said in 2007 at the Vibrant Gujarat meet: “It is stupid if you are not in Gujarat.”
But the hoardings are blind to the news peg for the Time magazine story, and the many others that have featured Gujarat since February. It’s 10 years since the 2002 riots. The predictable was omnipresent in the stock-taking reportage: the tribulations of riot victims, the turns and twists in court trials and Gujarati society. The zero count for the decade timeline shifted from 2001—when Modi became chief minister—to the 2002 communal riots.
The 2002 saga continues to overwhelm the growth story, sparing none, including Modi sympathisers and his spin masters. Modi took note of the riots in his personal blog for the first time in the form of a letter written by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Arun Jaitley. The letter, reproduced in Modi’s blog, called the last ten years the decade of peace, and said the growth had benefited all, Hindus and Muslims alike.
There was also a reminder for the people—no riots have taken place in Gujarat since 2002.
Hailed as a Hindutva icon for his unapologetic stance on the riots, over a period of time 2002 became Modi’s cross, a liability that could derail grander dreams than Gujarat.
The denial of a US visa to Modi on charges that his government was culpable in the riots continues to haunt the chief minister and the BJP to this day. As if this was not enough, there was the embarrassment of police encounters, which put a posse of favoured policemen and Modi’s confidant—former home minister Amit Shah—in the dock.
It was time for a change. With all the trappings of grand theatre emerged the “vikas purush” and then the yatri for the cause of “sadhbhavna” (goodwill). These mantras were fashioned to do for Modi what the perfumes of Arabia could not do for Lady Macbeth.
The first step was the Vibrant Gujarat biennials that began in 2003, with practically every industry honcho in the country promising investment. The promises, some on paper, some in practice, are worth thousands of crores.
Industries have signed 17,575 MoUs worth $888 billion at the five Vibrant Gujarat investor meets held since 2003. In 2009, Modi claimed 69 per cent realisation for the MoUs. Later, RTI replies as well as industry associations pegged the actual realisation at 24-30 per cent, the rate in the rest of the country. Following news reports, particularly in The Indian Express in 2009, the state government carried a sobering disclaimer in 2011 on its Vibrant Gujarat website.
To deflect the growing criticism that Modi was pro-industry, the government began to cite the Krishi Mahotsav, Sagarkhedut Yojana, the Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana, which are rebranded, repackaged state and central schemes for farmers, fishermen and tribals. This was followed by the commissioning of a ₹100 crore business convention centre, called Mahatma Mandir, to host the 2011 Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Meet. A tacky re-creation of the Dandi Salt Satyagraha is the only Gandhism at play in this business centre.
The “Sadbhavana Mission” was tagged on later, where the strident saffron was whitewashed in a soothing, peaceful white. Modi sat in day-long fasts across the state in the latter half of 2011, to “promote goodwill” as the state government brochures say. The state and party took care to ensure that burqas and skull caps dominated the news frames.
Gujarat’s freshly-minted identity and Modi’s persona resulted in three consecutive wins in assembly polls, and appears infallible as the state goes to vote in winter this year.
The Congress, riven by infighting, has blundered in its anti-Modi campaigns, but hangs on to its political pride by its showing in the 2004 and 2010 Lok Sabha elections The third force or a regional party in Gujarat is not a cultural possibility, making for a dismal political scenario.
The fate of dissenters in the BJP, famously that of Haren Pandya who was killed, or the likes of Keshubhai Patel and Kashiram Rana pushed into oblivion, has also not encouraged any questions on Modi’s style or substance.
This, however, does not deter a large chunk of marginal and prosperous farmers, the poor fishermen and the pastoralists from disagreeing with Gujarat’s development model.
are few who believe outside Gujarat that there can be such protests
against development in Gujarat,” says the soft-spoken Dr Kanu Kalsaria.
The slim, white-haired village doctor is the three-time BJP MLA of Mahuva who has refused to be blown off by the hype about Gujarat’s growth trajectory. The doctor, who busied himself in operating theatres and running a trust hospital without government aid or handouts from Gujarati philanthropists, has morphed in the last five years into a vocal and perhaps the most effective critic of the chief minister’s development agenda.
“The government left us no choice but to protest,” says Kalsaria, “The party did not elect me as the MLA, it is the people, how could I abandon them?”
Picked by Keshubhai Patel, Modi’s predecessor, Kalsaria was chosen 15 years ago by the BJP to take on Congress veteran Chhabildas Mehta in 1998. When Modi took the reins, few suspected there would a dissenter in this unassuming doctor.
“In the beginning we had no reason to oppose them. We, too, thought industry meant growth, roads followed and then government attention, but now we realise that we locals are paying the price. There is pollution; we have no control over gauchar (pastoral) land. If any industry wants gauchar land, the government hands it on a platter, we have to seek permission if the cows are to graze,’’ said a Mahuva farmer.
Government and Nirma officials silenced a group of angry village women when they asked questions during a public hearing for the proposed cement plant in Mahuva in 2007. Their queries were simple: “Why was the panchayat land on which the government built a reservoir to prevent salinity ingress being handed over to the factory? How would the much needed water reach their farms after the cement plant came up? How would the pollution from the plant, be it fly ash or even the discharge not contaminate the reservoirs around?”
When the women were manhandled during picketing at the fence that came up later, the rest of the villages came out in their support. These small-time, marginal farmers walked to their MLA, Kalsaria, with their woes and a trade-off happened between them.
“He promised to take up the issue if we remained strictly non-violent. The cement plant should not have been allowed at any cost,” said Khimji Baraiya, a Koli farmer in Mahuva.
Baraiya had filed the PIL against the proposed cement plant with two others much before they had approached Kalsaria to lead the protest. Thus began the Mahuva movement—picketing, petitioning, protesting and a very unlikely networking of causes that began to question how development was playing out in the state.
Something similar happened along the Gulf of Kutch, in Bhadreshwar and villages nearby. When the Adanis started building the port and later the SEZ in Mundra, the shoreline changed drastically, and the stretches of mangrove that spawned their fish catch were cleared. Fishermen lost access to many a fishing spot.
Their protests and petitions cut no ice with the Adanis or the local authorities. Then came two thermal power plants in their backyard, one by the Tatas, the other by the OPG Group (A company registered in the Isle of Man, committed to setting up coal-based power plants in India, and promises shareholders ‘risk averse’ investment).
As in Mahuva, questions during the public hearings for environment clearance went unanswered.
“The public hearings are usually a farce everywhere, most industries inevitably get environment clearance in most places in the country,’’ says Rohit Prajapati, environment activist in Vadodara battling industrial pollution in the courts for decades.
The thermal power plants were stationed near the sea coast to siphon off water for their huge cooling plants. “All the fish catch would be sucked in and thrown out dead after the cooling process was over,’’ says a Kutchi fishermen, who belongs to the Wagher community.
Unlike the rest across the country or even Gujarat, Kutchi fishermen do not venture out in big, mechanised trawlers, but small boats, often lifeboats salvaged from the ship-breaking yards in nearby Alang. The Waghers venture barely 10-12 km into the sea to practise the “pagadiya” method in which fishing is done by sticking the nets on poles in the seabed to catch in the intertidal gaps.
The proximity of the power plant would not only evict them from their makeshift homes, where they dried the catch but effectively kill the fish population. The Waghers, a minuscule community on the social fringes did not seem to matter at all, nor were their concerns of any importance.
With the Adanis, Tatas, OPG and their ilk setting up plants after the government offered a tax holiday for industries in Kutch to facilitate its growth and reconstruction after the 2001 earthquake, Kutchis, especially the fishermen and pastoralists, don’t know what was worse: The earthquake, or the later succour in the garb of development.
It’s the reason why Ayub Haji, a Bhadreshwar fisherman has an ever-angry poser: “Vikas thayo chhe, vikas thayo chhe, rasta aavya, udyog aavya, Gujarat no vikas thayo, baapda puccho to khara kono vikas thi rahyo chhe?” (“There is growth, there is development, the roads came, industries came, Gujarat is growing, but sir, at least ask who has developed?”)
His thoughts meet hundreds of kilometres away with Kadviben Bhaliya of Dodiya village, the resolute face of the Mahuva movement. Having led a delegation of village women to meet Nirma chairman Karasanbhai Patel, she said: “These industrialists come to villages, take our land, some money is paid to us, but no money is sufficient for a lifetime. From owners we turn into workers and worse, go into cities and become slum dwellers.”
An avowed vegetarian from mainland Gujarat’s Modasa town who had come as an earthquake relief worker to Kutch in 2001, explains how he has now no other plan in life but to be with the Macchimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (The Fishermen’s Rights and Struggle Organisation).
“After the immediate relief, we started a survey to know who needed support most. We realised it was the fishermen,’’ says Bharat Patel, the MASS secretary, who holds a post-graduate degree in social work from Gujarat Vidaypith.
Patel admits that he realised quickly that it wasn’t nature, but the warped blueprint for development after the quake that was more alarming.
A political protest is something that Gujarat has not witnessed for a long time. In any case these things remained largely an urban, middle-class affair, be it the Navnirman agitation, the anti-reservation stir and even the pro-Narmada dam agitation. Moreover, Gujarat has always had a pro-industry policy since its inception, irrespective of various governments, the Congress, BJP or shaky coalitions. But it has never invited so much flak as now.
“This is a post-liberalisation phenomenon. Industries had come earlier, but the pressure on land and resources was not as intense. One has to understand that the forces of globalisation and liberalisation coincide after the Nineties and we are witnessing a reaction to it,” explains Prakash Shah, veteran journalist and human rights activist.
“Governments take the role of middlemen for the corporations, be it in acquiring land or facilitating them. The balance between agriculture and industry is fast being lost in this post-globalised world.” This, he says, sacrifices the interests of the marginal groups in the system.
Girish Patel, the legal activist responsible for almost every significant pro-people PIL in the last five decades in Gujarat, says the questioning has been happening for a long time, but on a different scale. Fishermen in Umbergaon, the south Gujarat fishing town, had protested and petitioned similarly in 2000 against the construction of the port, but lost its leader Lt Col Pratap Save in police firing. The farmers in Positra, Saurashtra, too, had taken a march around the same time, going to court to oppose the first ever SEZ.
“Development always comes with a price, it is not an end, it is a process. What we are not doing is limiting it. Growth has to be limited sometime, somewhere,” says Girish Patel.
The fisherman’s take is pragmatic. “I have to pay Rs 500 for an auto to the hospital in an emergency in Mandvi town. A coupleof years ago it was about Rs 150. A small home in my village could be rented for Rs 800 two years ago, now it can’t be had for Rs 4,500. If this means development has reached our village, then it surely must be beyond our understanding,” says Hussain Kara, an angry fisherman.
those who question or seek answers to questions in the larger public
interest, the going has not been smooth. The Mahuva protestors had make
extensive use of the RTI Act to seek documents during the trial to
establish the existence of a reservoir built by government funds where
the Nirma cement plant was being constructed. Ironically, while the
reservoir was physically evident, farmers could convince the courts only
when they submitted a satellite image of the terrain.
have not been as lucky, with intimidation even taking the shape of
murder. Wildlife activist Amit Jethava who used RTI extensively, filing a
PIL in court against illegal mining in the Gir Lion Reserve, was
murdered in July 2010. Bhagu Devani, another RTI activist who had sought
details through RTI about illegal construction in Porbandar was
attacked, allegedly, at the behest of local BJP administrators. It was
the same story in the case of Ajay Ambalia in Jetpur in September 2011,
and Jaysukh Bambhaniya in Una in August 2011. Valsad-based Ketan Shah
who had exposed irregularities in municipality functioning by its
president faced threats to his life following his RTI applications.
“The threats are always there for those who especially take up public causes on issue of corruption or governance. They are either denied answers or made to go for lengthy appeals, even though Section 4(1) B of the RTI Act stipulates proactive disclosure of information, which is not done in Gujarat as well as other states,’’ says Harinesh Pandya of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Panel.
When 2002 riot victims sought the station diary details through RTI applications, many of them were denied details with an answer that they had been destroyed, said Pandya. While for others who want to know how the government spends on schemes it announces, the details are withheld. “While government claims good governance, it is difficult to measure its performance as there are no comprehensive disclosures of details,” he added.
The quest for information is not only fraught with danger, but is unequal. The activists, quite often farmers, tribals or citizens with humble backgrounds, are pitted against not only the government, but the expertise it has at its disposal. The Gujarat government appointed Apco Worldwide, a US-based PR firm, for an image makeover after America denied Modi a visa. Later the government made it the relationship partner for the 2011 Vibrant Gujarat summit. Apco Worldwide has former ambassadors, corporate heads drawn not only from the US but across the world including strategy partnerships with a firm that has Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of state.
unlike neighbouring Maharashtra or the south Indian states, or Bihar
has not been home to a culture of vocal protest or dissent. As a result,
when protesting voices grow from rural Gujarat, an insidious mix of
covert and overt strategy worked out in tandem by the government and the
corporations is at work to quell them.
The first response is public indifference and silence.
The Mahuva protestors encountered it in the form of a media blackout, especially the local, Gujarati press. “The local press in Mahuva or Bhavnagar never bothered to report our issues, till the police lathi-charged women. Even after that, barring some exceptions, most reported the court proceedings,” says Akshay Kanakia, a Mahuva-based photographer, who has taken on the task of documenting all facets of the Mahuva movement.
The movement has never been reported till date in Gujarat Samachar, the state’s largest circulated daily, except for some court proceedings. Many of the protest stories don’t make it to the Ahmedabad edition of the dailies, except when there is violence or a vital proceeding in the High Court.
“It is easier for me to get news of New York than Nadiad in my Ahmedabad edition. Multi-editions as well as the urban mindset of the journalists does not help much’’ says Prakash Shah.
Restricted media coverage, though, is a relatively benign kind of indifference compared to the use of state machinery in the form of local police and courts to break the morale of the dissenters.
“One of us is likely to get a seven or ten-year term when the court pronounces its verdict,” says Hamir Shiyal, one of the petitioners against Nirma. “In another case, charges like attempt to murder, loot, arson among several others, have been booked against me and nine others.”
At least 10 men and three women, including Kadviben spent six days in police custody when they took out the first protest rally from Mahuva after their representations in the public hearing and before the state administration were stonewalled.
“We got out on bail, but serious charges were framed against us, when in a later incident a mob of thousands resorted to stone pelting at the Samadhiyala reservoir,” said Shiyal.
The experience of the Kutchi fishermen is no different. When a group from Bhadreshwar went to the OPG power plant site to ask how they could continue construction in spite of court orders 30 of them found themselves in jail on various charges.
“It took us four months, and petitioning right up to the High Court to bail them out. The lawyers had to be paid, and all the cost was borne from the contributions of these fishermen,” said Bharat Patel, the MASS secretary.
It could have been much worse, as police randomly picked up some fishermen when the wife of a senior OPG official was found murdered.
“God saved us! That night, the local constable was with us and the murder happened in the neighbouring taluka. It turned out later that the husband had murdered the wife following some domestic quarrel,” says Adam Haji, a fisherman from Bhadreshwar.
“But why should one blame the police, they get orders from the sarkar, which in turn gets the order from the company wala.”
Adam Haji articulates what Hamir Shiyal in Saurasthra also believes. The Mauhuva petitioner now braces for court appearances after a spell of quiet farming once the Supreme Court finally got the Nirma plant out of the reservoir.
Kalsaria, who tried raising the issue on the floor of the Assembly using his legislative privilege found little opportunity. The lone time Modi granted him and a few others an audience, was after their padyatra, and it was a meeting with a touch of sarcasm. Modi offered free bus rides for the protestors to go home, even as police outside the Assembly took protesting padyatris, including women and children, into custody.
Next, the Mahuva farmers found that work on one of the four reservoirs under the Salinity Ingress Prevention Programme, vital for their region, was stalled deliberately by the irrigation department, as they had refused the compromise option being offered by Nirma. During the trial in the Gujarat High Court, the company offered to surrender 100 hectares out of the 268 hectares allotted to it. The reservoir land came to 222 hectares, so what Nirma offered was a pittance. Shramdan and donations later completed the reservoir linking work.
In Mahuva, in Kutch, in Surat, the message from the people is: “It is so obvious that the government that we elected for listening to us is busy following the diktat of the company. What option are we left with but to protest to survive?”
Money power often succeeds where muscle does not, and the protests in Gujarat have sparked a host of activities that come under the label of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), birthed by the very same corporations that people are up in arms against.
Nirma has offered to rebuild the village primary school, a crematorium that existed on the land it was allotted, and also the one on the land it had acquired. Assurances of better roads, streetlights, improving the community health centre and such works in Mahuva too were reported.
In Kutch, all corporates including the Adanis have an informal CSR network, which meets every three months. Convened by the state UNICEF director, they exchange notes on the programmes to be taken, keeping the district level officials in the loop.
The Adanis have a trust—the Adani Foundation—which has implemented all CSR work in Mundra since 1998. “We try to maximise the positive aspects of the industry, while minimising the negatives through CSR because industries are inevitable,” says Sushama Oza, CEO of the Adani Foundation.
It seems like a typical example of goebbelspeak, to skate over the truth rather than state it.
Collusion between the government and the corporates is at its genteel best in the village level committees set up by the corporates in places where they have operations, “to know exactly what villagers require and to facilitate their needs.” The committee has panchayat members, community elders and corporate officials. And for those who need more persuasion, making them contractors for sundry jobs is yet another way.
“While there is always an attempt to accommodate all local stakeholders—we try to ensure that they get local contracts—there is someone who gets left out, and they instigate the locals,’’ says Oza.
This argument is not without substance. In quite a few cases, petitioners have turned contractors for the industries they are opposing in courts. The protestors call them turncoats or “sellouts”.
“Running schools, hospitals, building roads is the government’s job not that of the company. And then the company wala thinks it is great seva. These are just attempts to buy our assent to whatever they want,’’ says Ibrahim Manjaliya, a Wagher.
“Karsanbhai offered everything to us, but he failed to understand, what good would all that do if we didn’t survive with respect,” says Kadviben who had refused all his offers in a one-to-one meeting.
While everyone agrees that the protests against industries are taking place even in Gujarat now, no one wants to spell out what they indicate. Industry prefers to be dismissive, saying vested interests are at play. The protestors admit there is little they can do when fellow villagers simply sell their land at high prices or collude in the land sale. Stories of luxury cars sharing space with cattle on village roads are common, as it happened in Sanand village after Tata set up its Nano car plant. It makes the disquiet over the change more palpable.
“The industries are surely making the farmers rich overnight. After selling the land, farmers build big bungalows in the village, buy flats in cities, own big cars, have lavish weddings. It goes on for two, three years and then money gets over,” says Jayesh Patel of Surat, who heads the protest against polluting industries in Hazira. “Once the money is over, the farmer is forced to become a dalal—the land broker or worker. It is difficult for him to continue farming. As prices go up, one has to cheat or usurp to own land again.”
suppression of this dissenting voice by state government and corporates,
and occasionally an acquiescent media, has triggered a unity unknown to
Gujarat in the last couple of decades.
Schism has been Gujarat’s historical reality, since 2002, a reality not denied, and it’s become the standard narrative. At the same time, there’s also a parallel development, the coming together of people. Pushed to the wall, the fight for survival on their own terms has encouraged people to forge a solidarity that cuts across caste, class and religious barriers.
Neither the government, the social elites nor the industrialists ever planned or wanted such peacetime solidarity. However, that is what they ended up ensuring in a way that well-meaning activists struggle to achieve even now.
The Muslim fishermen of the Wagher community and the Koli farmers of Mahuva—he first led by a Patel and the other by an Ahir—not only have a similar story to share, but decided consciously to join forces, though hundreds of kilometres away from each other.
“The issue is same and unless we unite, there will be no impact. It was a conscious decision to cycle together from Bhadreshwar to Jamnagar,” remembers Kalsaria. The white skullcaps, the flowing beards, the tilaks or odd surnames never mattered to the hosts who arranged food and stay in temples and community halls in the caste-conscious terrain of Saurashtra.
Everyone networked with their community to ensure a welcome for the cycle yatris and padyatris. KK as Kripal Sinh, a Darbar and one of Kalsaria’s advisors is known, is a retired agriculture officer who runs a transport business. He is a classic case of bystander-turned-activist.
For KK, the turning point came when he saw village women being beaten up during a protest march. “I had barely ever met Kalsaria or others before, I had little to do with their concern, but beating up women for something which is the farmers’ cause could not be tolerated,” he says.
It is KK who routinely networked with police and government officers, including community leaders to ensure the protesting farmers were not harmed, drawing on his ties with the upper caste kinsmen of his Darbar community, as feudal Kshatriyas are locally called.
The diminutive, bespectacled frame of Bavchand Dhameliya, a farmer leader belonging to the Leuva caste is mourned at every protest meeting after he died in a road accident while returning from a farmers’ meet in Bharuch with Kalsaria.
A Leuva Patel, ever dressed in local farmer’s white, the engineer had turned into a farmer leader, especially the marginal farmers. In his sixties, he was at the forefront everywhere with Kalsaria, counselling, confiding and sharing notes as the Gujarat Khedut Samaj leader.
“They don’t hire locals much because we create trouble, those who get work are the ones who have contracts, which is one way of bribing them to agree, and this has not increased land prices, but practically everything now in this area–is this how you city folk define development?” asks Bhikha Gadhvi, a farmer who is part of the fishermen’s struggle.
In Kutch, the Waghers admit they could not have succeeded without two men, Kiritsinh Jadeja and Bhikha Gadhvi. Many in Bhikha’s Ahir community, farmers with control over transport in much of Kutch, thinks the old man is woolly-headed for his pro-fishermen stand. But others think differently.
“Today it is the turn of the fishermen, tomorrow it will be ours, the salt manufacturers, and the farmers, they are not able to see that,” says Gadhvi, the one time district panchayat member. It was Gadhvi who refused to sell his land to the OPG group to allow the pipeline from the thermal plant to the sea, severely affecting its plans.