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Divide and rule: Modi splits SIR to avert a Singur moment for now

It is an old strategy of the ruling class. When you can't suppress a democratic protest, use tactics to divide the protesters and contain them. Britishers used it. Many other governments used it. And now Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi too.

According to a report in the Business Standard today, the Gujarat government has decided to reduce the size of the proposed Mandal-Becharaji special investment region (SIR), in effect bringing about a split among the farmers protesting against the government move.

The SIR will now have only 8 villages under it against 44 earlier.

 Divide and rule: Modi splits SIR to avert a Singur moment for now

The SIR will now have only 8 villages under it against 44 earlier. Reuters

The state government had devised a Special Investment Region Act in 2009 aimed at creating "world class hubs of economic activity on the lines of fastest growing countries of the world".

The government had notified the Mandal-Becharaji belt as an SIR with 44 villages under it. Farmers in the region have been up in the arms against the proposal by the government.

Farmers have said the government has not been able to deliver on its promise to provide Narmada water while the height of the dam was increased in their name. "The government wants to increase the height of Narmada dam in the name of the farmers but the same government is de-commanding thousands of hectares from the Narmada canal command area," Mayur Patel, a farmer protesting against the SIR, was quoted as saying in a Times of India report.

With the latest development, the size of the SIR will come down to 10,721 ha from the earlier 50,000 ha, the BS report said. The eight villages that now come under the SIR will be re-notified and the move will smoothen Maruti's plans to set up its plant in the state.

Government officials are projecting the development as a proof of the government's open mindedness towards farmers.

"By giving approval to this decision, the chief minister has kept his promise to farmers," Energy Minister Saurabh Patel has been quoted as saying in the BS report.

But farmers are far from happy. The Jameen Adhikar Andolan - Gujarat, which led the agitation against the SIR, has said termed this as an incomplete victory for farmers, in an Indian Express report.

"This is an incomplete victory since the demands of the agitation viz withdrawal of the SIR notification, removal of Maruti Suzuki and reversing the process of de-commanding of Narmada command area are pending," the IE report quoted from the andolan's statement.

Sagar Rabari, an activist, has even told the BS that the government's aim is to take the steam of the protests as farmers from 36 villages can now opt out.

"We do not wish to be a part of the SIR and would try to communicate our point of view to the government," Ajmal Thakor, the sarpanch of Hansalpur, a village that will be part of the new SIR proposal and where the Maruti plant is coming up, has told the BS.

So clearly, Modi has not succeeded in averting a Singur moment in Gujarat completely.

If the protests gain momentum, will the government climb down further? Then what will happen to the Maruti plant?

Whether Modi or the Congress, central to the developmental debate in India is always the loss of cultivable land.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 21:41:28 IST