The Gujarat police
swooped down on Dalit rights leader Jignesh Mevani at the Ahmedabad airport on
the evening of 16 September on his return from Delhi, just ahead of Prime
Minister Narendra Modi’s landing for his 66th birthday, falling on the next day. Mevani was picked up for apparently no reason and released
later in the dead of the night, at around 3am.
Hours later, he was back with the police which had decided to hold him back till Modi, who was in the tribal districts of Dahod and Navsari in central and south Gujarat respectively, leaves Gujarat on the evening of his birthday on 17 September.
allowed him to go to nearby Dholka town
for a demonstration on land rights but that was no consolation, since a
contingent of the crime branch police constantly accompanied him.
On Monday (19 September), Mevani and 200 activists were rounded up again. He was not let off till that night to ensure he did not implement his threat, as also apparently to prevent him from holding a public demonstration over the murder of a Muslim youth, Mohammad Ayyub, in the city by cow vigilantes on 12 September.
Mevani’s Movement Instills Fear in the State Govt
But keeping Jignesh Mevani tied down twice in a space of 36 hours over his demand for the rights of 331 land allottee families of just one village of Dholka taluka (tehsil) in Ahmedabad district spoke of a latent fear in the state government.
After rustling up a huge Dalit uprising in Gujarat in the wake of the Una flogging incident of 11 July for over a month, that is gradually assuming national contours, Mevani is taking his movement to the next level by asking for land rights to the Dalits which has already been on his demand list.
When he demanded that every Dalit family should be given five acres of land since they were giving up their original occupation of removing carcass and cleaning gutters, it was dismissed off as sheer rhetoric that is raised during the heat of a public movement.
Allocation of Land to Dalits yet to Be Done
But if Mevani succeeds, that is when the 331 land allottees of the Saroda village in Dholka get the possession of around 100 acres of land that is in their name in the revenue records, there are hundreds of others in eight villages in Dholka in the queue.
And once that happens, this will open a Pandora’s box for the state government. Jignesh Mevani is sitting with the list of 17,000 Dalit families to stake claim on a whopping, hold your breath, 1,63,608 acres of land.
This figure is not the figment of imagination of 35-year-old Mevani – this is the state government speaking on oath in the Gujarat high court in response to a petition by the lawyer-turned-politician. This acreage of land stands allotted on paper under the Agricultural Land Ceiling (ALC) Act of 1976, but actual possession has not yet been given.
There is evidence, not in the very distant past, to suggest that what Mevani is asking for is not impossible to get. A quiet year-long agitation led by nonagenarian Gandhian rights activist, late Chunibhai Vaidya, had resulted in 7,000 families, mostly Dalits, getting 20,000 acres of land freed under the ALC Act in 2006.
Chunikaka and many of us started that agitation after the Gujarat government issued a notification on 17 May 2005, claiming that since the central policy of giving lands to landless farmers under the ALC Act had failed on the ground, the government would allow parcels of 2,000 acres to be developed by corporate houses and big farmers.Sagar Rabari, President, Gujarat Khedut Samaj
Gujarat’s Land Movement Won’t Be Confined to Dalits
Chunibhai Vaidya began by first writing a letter to the state government, demanding to know the basis on which it was assumed that the central policy had failed and started the agitation to withdraw the notification on not receiving any response. “Exactly a year later, on 17 May 2006, we went ahead with rail roko and highway roko protest between Samakhiyali and Bhachau in Kutch,” Rabari said. The very next day, following a meeting with state Revenue Secretary, Vilasini Ramachandran, the process began to allot 20,000 acres to 7,000 families across the state.
And so, when Mevani continues to plough on, it would not remain restricted to these Dalits, there are in all 37,000 farmer families of the OBCs and tribals, besides the landless, who own that 1.63 lakh acres of land.
According to the Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, a farmer can own not more 16 acres of irrigated and 32 acres of non-irrigated land and the rest is given to ex-servicemen, Dalits, Adivasis (tribals), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and landless families – in that order. If something is left even after this, the land is distributed to marginal farmers.
Gujarat Govt Trying to Contain Land Uprising
The simple meaning of this is that Jignesh Mevani’s movement for rights under the ALC Act would not remain restricted to the Dalits but would assume the state-level shape of a campaign for land rights of OBCs, tribals and the landless too. It’s a situation, the Gujarat government would not wish to happen, more so in an election year when the ruling BJP is already besieged by the Patel challenge.
This may explain why the state government is trying to prevent Mevani from building up a land rights campaign, but the more the government does so, the more it establishes the Mevani Movement among the people he is fighting for.
(The writer is Editor, Development News Network, Gujarat. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)