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Stop harassing Sarvodaya leader: Ex-Gujarat BJP CM, 200 others write to Rupani

Former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta
Counterview Desk
More than 200 academics, activists, students, business-persons, other concerned citizens have sought Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani's intervention to stop harassment of Gandhian Sarvodaya activist Lakhan Musafir, an active campaigner for tribal rights and opponent of land acquisition for the Statue of Unity tourism project.
Signed by former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta, veteran Gandhian Indukumar Jani, Sarvodayaist Prakash N Shah, sociologist Prof Ghanshyam Shah and environmentalist Rohit Prajapati, referring to the notice given to Musafir by Rajpipla sub-divisional magistrate, the letter says, the decision to bar him from entering five South Gujarat districts is defamatory, illegal, malafide, and a misuse of one's position to deny a person his fundamental rights.

Text:

We, the undersigned, are social and political activists and guardians of public life and wish to draw your urgent attention to an extremely important matter. It pertains to the upholding of democratic norms and a vibrant public life and we expect that you will treat the matter with the seriousness and urgency that it deserves and take appropriate steps.
Lakhanbhai Musafir has been served a notice barring his entry in five districts (Narmada, Bharuch, Vadodara, Chhota Udepur and Tapi) for two years by the Rajpipla Sub-Divisional Magistrate KD Bhagat. Citing a police report, he states that:
“… We know Lakhanbhai Megjibhai Musafir very well and he is not into any ‘honest business or profession’ and along with his companions is always involved in anti-social and illegal organizing of people in the Kevadia area against the Statue of Unity and other projects of tourism being undertaken by the Narmada Nigam and is misleading the people into anti-government activity and indulges in anti-government slogan shouting in public, creates obstacles in government’s work and disturbs the law and order of the area.
"If he is stopped in doing so he and his companions organize into illegal groups and organize violent attacks and they argue and get into altercations with the staff of Narmada Nigam on trivial matters and creates an atmosphere of terror.
"He displays a communal mindset and often targets the Statue of Unity by getting together antisocial elements, gives refuge to anti-government elements from outside the state and organizes meetings in the neighbouring villages and disturbs the peace of the area….”

The notice is long and repetitive and hence we are not reproducing it here.
The entire description, without any exaggeration on our part, is piece of fiction spun by a police constable which an officer of the rank of a Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) has merely ‘copied and pasted’ without any investigation at his level and displays a lack of discernment and ordinary common sense on his part.
We wish to appraise you with details of just who this individual, Lakhan Musafir, thus described by the SDM really is.
  • 1982: He is the one who heard of Vinoba Bhave’s Gauraksha Satyagraha against abettoirs at Deonar (Mumbai) in 1982 and was inspired to follow in Gandhi’s footsteps; 
  • 1985: He worked for five months in VInoba Bhave’s Pavnar ashram (Wardha, Maharashtra) in 1985 and worked in the gaushala there; 
  • First half of 1985: He spent one and a half years with Dr Dwarkadas Joshi (a noted Gandhian and a successful eye specialist in Mumbai, who left his medical practice to join freedom movement, later he settled near Vadnagar, started a centre for TB patients there) during his gau-gram padyatra in North Gujarat, Kutchchh and contributed in the youth camps, organic farming and other rural development initiatives. This is the same Dr. Dwarkadas Joshi who the current PM and the former CM of Gujarat had acknowledged as owing his public life to the inspiration provided by Dr. Joshi and who presided over the function to felicitate the then CM in a public function in Visnagar. Thus, his formation as a social worker happened under the guidance of a leading Gandhian of that time. 
  • From 1986 to 1989 he stayed in Rajpipla on a friend’s farm and practiced organic farming along with helping to build public toilets and bathrooms and bio-gas plants in the neighbouring Adivasi villages. 
  • From 1989 to 1992 he stayed in Dheduki area of Rajkot district where he continued his engagement on promoting toilet-bathroom construction and organic farming and also initiated educational activities like balwadi and aanganwadi. 
  • Then again from 1992 to 1998 he remained in Kantindra village of Rajpipla where he continued his focus on organic farming and also organized the production of chemical-free organic jaggery so that farmers may realize a good price and consumers can get chemical-free jaggery. 
  • From 1998 to 2004 he continued his efforts to promote organic farming and turn farmers towards it. 
  • 2004 onwards he worked relentlessly to get farmers to start value-addition to their produce in order to augment their incomes and reap the benefit of their hard work. He also worked to get the Adivasi children admitted in the Navodaya Vidyalaya there so that the education level and the prospects of Adivasi children could improve drastically. Alongside, he kept up his engagement with the local farmers so that they could independently work to resolve their local issues. 
Lakhan Musafir
The year 2013 onwards he stood alongside the small Adivasi landowners/farmers in their (yet more state-sponsored) crises – Garudeshwar Wier, and KADA – Kevadia Area Development Authority. He not only provided legal guidance but also approached the National Green Tribunal and the High Court of Gujarat with petitions.
In the anti-KADA agitation the then Revenue Minister Anandiben Patel and the then Finance Minister Nitinbhai Patel held meetings with him and ultimately the government canceled its decision to declare an ADA there.
The person who has devoted his entire life to preserving constitutional values and who walked tirelessly in Gandhi’s footsteps, who eschewed the path of “earning money” and dedicated his life to public good and public welfare is today being termed by the SDM as...
“…this anti-social person routinely issues threats and resorts to physical force or violence…”!
How can SDM even imagine that this person, who walks on Gandhiji’s path of non-violent social service, lives among the poorest of the poor, works for their education, is an anti-social person and resorts to physical force?
“…does not do any acceptable honest work…”!
Disagreements with issues or motives or social movements is acceptable part of democracy, and debates and solutions can follow from that
How can a social worker, who has devoted his life to serving people, be doing acceptable honest work? We have had several social workers like Ravishankar Maharaj, Babalbhai Mehta, Jugatramkaka and Chunibhai Vaidya who have never pursued a profession ever. They found their life’s mission in serving the poorest of the poor, the last person.
The third serious charge against Lakhan Musafir in the notice is: He has a communal mindset. Who has accused him so? Without any complaint or law suit to the effect, without any proof or examination, how can the police determine his “communal mindset”?
We, the undersigned, have known Lakhanbhai directly or through his work and writings. The Lakhan Musafir described in the notice is a fictitious character and not to be confused with the real Lakhan Musafir who we all know. The ‘charges’ in the notice (if at all they can be called so) are not just outright lies but are most obviously defamatory. We thus call upon you to recall the notice with immediate effect.
We, as aware and vigilant citizens, wish to also make it clear to you that this is not a healthy precedent being set in your term as CM, and must be stopped immediately. Disagreements with issues or motives or social movements is an acceptable part of democracy, and debates, discussions and solutions can follow from that.
But hurling defamatory charges at an individual and misusing the law or one's position to deny a person his fundamental rights is an illegal and malafide act. We have no reason to believe that this would have happened on orders from your government. If so, then we wish to draw your attention and demand that:
  • The notice be recalled immediately; 
  • A high-level inquiry be instituted into how the notice came to be, who did it and on whose orders;
  • Immediate punitive steps be initiated against the officer out to deny democratic rights to an individual by spinning a fiction.
If the above are not initiated then it would mean one thing and one thing only: viz the entire episode happened on the orders of your government. This case cannot stand in a court of law and may/can/will result in “bad press” for your government, within and outside Gujarat.
We are hopeful of immediate and adequate actions in the interests of constitutionality, legality and morality.
Looking forward to immediate steps in the interests of the state and society.
---
Click here for the list of signatories 

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