Gujarat Congress launches coastal campaign to corner Modi on various claims
Building on its campaign ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled for later this year, the Congress has launched a 10-day drive to woo residents of the state's coastal districts.
The 'Kinara Bachao Abhiyan' (save coastline campaign) is the strategy being launched to help the party attack the BJP-led governments both at the Centre and in the state.
On one side, it sets out to expose the failures of the state government to do anything concrete for the fishing community.
On the other, it will question tall claims made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls on dealing with Pakistan, particularly with regard to the large number of Gujarat fishermen languishing in Pakistani jails.
The campaign was launched at Mandvi in Kutch on the evening of 2 May and the plan is to cover the 1,600-km coastline of the state to end at Umbergaon in Valsad district of the state on 12 May with a rally.
As a part of the campaign, the Congress leadership will be moving down the coastline in boats, halting at several places, primarily fishing centres to interact with the marginalised communities while trying to convey how the various governments under the BJP have done nothing to improve their lot.
Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia, who comes from Porbandar, will cover the entire stretch on a boat, while other senior leaders will keep joining him at various places. Ashok Gehlot, the new in-charge of the party in Gujarat will also be participating.
Tearing into the BJP’s claims
The Congress leadership plans to tear apart the claims made by the state government previously under Modi and now under Vijay Rupani with regard to the development of the coastal areas. The leaders will particularly be lambasting the 'Sagar Khedu Sarvangi Vikas Yojna' launched by Modi with much fanfare ahead of the 11th five-year plan.
According to the Gujarat government, it is a unique 12-point flagship programme for which Rs 11,000 crore were allocated. The initiative focuses on an integrated development of the 60 lakh people living in 3,000 villages of 38 coastal talukas in 13 districts.
The government claims that it addresses special problems to improve quality of life and human development index in coastal areas, especially among the fishermen. It takes a holistic and integrated view that people living in the coastal area play a distinctive role in the preservation of the ecosystem.
According to the government, the focus areas include capacity building and training, up gradation of technology in traditional professions, specific and time bound action plan for improving wage and self-employment, educational facilities, health infrastructure, drinking water, housing, salinity ingress, electrification and water conservation, creation of infrastructure and coastal security.
The Congress leadership has disputed the government claims. Modhwadia told Catch, “Only a handful people have benefited from the so-called government initiatives while the entire ecosystem has suffered immense damage. The government has not only handed over the waterfront to the industry, but has also given it the hinterland. The industrial activity has made the entire coastline polluted and the aquaculture has been severely damaged.”
Over the years, he says, BJP governments have just been making tall claims on development of the coast while they have nothing to show on ground.
“The fact remains that the successive governments have failed to develop the fishing industry while pandering to the forces bent upon promoting vegetarianism in the state,” said a senior media person based in Rajkot. The entire haul of fish caught from the state is exported and no effort has been made to promote domestic consumption, he says.
These governments have also failed to exploit the tourism potential of the state's coastline. Besides prohibition being a major reason for there being no or very little tourist activity, the other reasons include the non availability of the basic requirements of the tourists.
A neglected and vulnerable community
The most important issue which the Congress leadership intends playing up during this campaign is the failure of the Centre under Modi with regard to the frequent capturing of Gujarati fishermen in international waters by Pakistani marine agencies. The strategy is to show just how hypocritical Modi’s tall claims were in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where he said he would ensure that Pakistan does not capture any Indian fishermen.
“At present, there are 450 Gujarati fishermen languishing in Pakistani jails while there are no less than 970 boats that were confiscated by the Pakistani agencies. The people must know what the government is doing to address their concerns, said Modhwadia.
“We will also be raising how the BJP government have withdrawn the facilities that our government had been extending to the community. We were providing diesel to the fishermen that was sales tax free. The government has also done away with the Rs 20 lakh package that was given to the fishermen for procuring and upgrading their boats. This loan was highly subsidised,” he said.
He also accused the BJP governments of failing to develop any new ports in the state.
Social activist Arvind Khuman, who has been fighting for rights of the fishermen for many years, says that the people need to know how and where the funds allocated under the Sagar Khedu scheme have been utilised. He has been instrumental in the filing of a PIL in the Gujarat High Court seeking emergency medical services on the lines of 108 Ambulance service for fishermen who are off shore.
There have been reports saying that the communities living in coastal areas remain largely neglected, making them highly vulnerable. The main issues faced by them include developmental issues, pollution, lack of basic amenities and governmental neglect at a larger level. The reports say that despite various schemes in place under the Sagar Khedu Yojana, the benefits that they derive from them are almost nil.
Besides the fishermen, the other communities that have been found to be vulnerable are, saltpan workers, farmers and tribals.
It remains to be seen how coastal Gujarat responds to the Congress campaign and what the BJP does to counter the allegations being levelled against it.