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Modi foe, farmers' friend
Kanu Kalsaria has mobilised farmers against the Gujarat govt's land acquisition policies.
There are many within the BJP in Gujarat who don't agree with Narendra Modi's policies - whether it is the manner in which he runs the party or his development strategy. All criticism, however, remains
strictly off the record.
But there is one man that even Modi did not have the courage to officially expel from the party even though he challenged the chief minister's writ - Kanu Kalsaria. And this was because of his reputation for being a man of impeccable integrity.
Kalsaria was the BJP MLA from Mahuva in Bhavnagar when he openly declared war on Modi's 'anti-farmer' policies. He even launched his own political outfit and wrested the Mahuva taluka panchayat from the BJP in 2010. And yet, no one in the BJP dared issue him a show-cause notice, let alone officially announce his expulsion. The state party unit came to an understanding that Kalsaria is no longer with the BJP.
The 59-year-old surgeon does not have any organisation backing him. He fought the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections but could not win, leaving him isolated in his battle against one of the most powerful politicians in the country.
But Kalsaria isn't sulking in some forgotten corner of Mahuva. He has single-handedly started a movement against the Gujarat government's land acquisition policy for industries and challenged three major projects - the proposed Mandal-Becharaji special investment region (SIR) in Ahmedabad, the Jetpur-Somnath national highway bypass in Junagadh and the nuclear power plant in Mithivirdi village near Bhavnagar.
On July 4, hundreds of farmers from 44 villages took out a rally from Dasada to Surendranagar, their second protest march in a month. "No one can take away the land of farmers which is their source of livelihood, " Kalsaria told protestors. "You must not allow the proposed industry to come up on your land. "
He is a one-man army against the might of Modi and his most powerful weapon is his reputation of working for the poor and being incorruptible. A large part of his popularity also comes from the charitable hospital that he's been running based on Gandhian values of trusteeship for the past 27 years in Mahuva. It has no special wards and no donation plaques nailed to the walls. No matter how rich or poor you are, you get the same bed and facilities as anyone else.
Kalsaria's association with the BJP goes back to the late 1990s. The party was looking for a candidate who could defeat Congress strongman and former chief minister Chhabildas Mehta in Mahuva in the 1998 assembly elections. The doctor won by a massive margin.
When detergent giant Nirma was given permission to build a 1. 91 million tonne per annum capacity cement plant with a 50MW captive power plant and a coke oven plant over a water body at Padhiyarka village in Mahuva taluka, angry farmers of the region approached the one man they knew they could trust - Kalsaria.
"We opposed the cement plant because it fell within the Samadhiya reservoir and was obstructing natural water drains. The reservoir was created to prevent salinity ingress and help farmers to irrigate their lands. A non-violent mass protest was the only option left for us to save our water body and livelihoods of thousands people, " he says.
After three years of stiff resistance and a legal battle, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests revoked the environment clearance to Nirma in December 2011. This was the first agitation that farmers had won against an industrial unit in the state in two decades. Praful Senjalia from Amreli was once associated with the Sangh Parivar's Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, but has now joined the farmer movement led by Kalsaria and others. "The Nirma victory is a landmark in Gujarat's history as far as farmer protests go. Every movement needs a leader in whom the people have total faith. Kalsaria has created that hope in farmers, " says Senjalia.
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