In the wake of the farmers’ protests on Delhi’s borders, Narendra Modi and the central government have made efforts to portray that the prime minister has a positive relationship with the Sikh community. These efforts included Modi’s meeting with a group of about 15 Sikh farmers in Gujarat’s Kutch district on 15 December. But according to Sikh farmers from Gujarat I spoke to, Modi had met a BJP general secretary and his companions. Contrary to what was being portrayed, Sikh farmers in Gujarat held disdain for Modi. This was rooted in a policy that was implemented in Kutch in 2010—when he was the chief minister—which diluted their rights over their land.
The Gujarat-based Sikh farmers identified the group that met the prime minister as comprising Jugraj Singh Raju—the general secretary of the BJP’s Kutch unit—and his companions. “Whenever the BJP needs to show Sikh farmers’ support, Raju and his friends appear,” Surinder Singh Bhullar, a farmers’ leader, told me. The farmers spoke to me about the 2010 controversy, which offered insight into Modi’s relationship with Sikhs in Gujarat. In the early 2010s, the Sikh community in the state openly voiced their opposition to Modi regarding the rule—I had documented this while reporting for the Punjabi daily Deshsevak in 2013. Farmers and farmers’ leaders in the state told me that they are now organising to join the sit-ins on Delhi’s borders.
After the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, Lal Bahadur Shastri, the prime minister at the time, allotted semi-arid land in Kutch to 550 farmers from other states to populate the border area and make it more secure. Among them were 390 Sikh farmers. These farmers made the land fertile—tube wells were installed, cotton started to grow and factories came up. In 1973, the Congress-led state government issued a circular—based on the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands (Vidarbha Region and Kutch Area) Act, 1958—that only native Gujaratis could buy land in the state.
In October 2010, the collector of Kutch sent notices to more than 700 farmers residing in the district, citing this circular and informing them that records of their land were being frozen. This meant that the farmers could not sell their land, buy land in the state or take any loan with their land as collateral. Bikkar Singh, a Gujarat-based farmer, said that when the lands were frozen, “A long list of people with ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ as their last name were termed as ‘non-natives’ and lost rights on their own land.”
In 2011, the farmers filed a case against the move in the Gujarat High Court and eventually won the case. Instead of implementing the high court’s decision, the state government approached the Supreme Court. The case is still pending in the court. Sikh farmers in Kutch told me that this has left them in a fix. They said authorities were not even doing “inteqal”—mentioning the owner’s name in the land records after the registry—by saying that the matter is pending in the court. “Modi is pretending to be an ally of Sikh farmers. If he was truly our ally, he would not have taken the matter to the Supreme Court,” Surinder told me.