Unveiling of the Statue of Unity, a 182-metre tall tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, death of several Gir lions and violence against migrants from Hindi-speaking states hogged the limelight in Gujarat during 2018.
Unveiling of the Statue of Unity, a 182-metre tall tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, death of several Gir lions and violence against migrants from Hindi-speaking states hogged the limelight in Gujarat during 2018. The statue, billed the tallest in the world, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 31 at Kevadiya in Narmada district. It has been attracting a large number of tourists.
In September, wildlife lovers were shocked when around 30 lions died in Gujarat’s Gir sanctuary after getting infected by the Canine Distemper Virus. Another 30 lions were kept under observation for the deadly virus, which wiped out 30 per cent population of the big cats in Serengeti jungles of Africa in 1994. According to the 2015 census, Gujarat had 523 lions, which draw tourists and animal enthusiasts to the state. The state government is now planning to shift some lions to places like Bardo Dungar forest area in Porbandar, but has refused to relocate them to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. The government is also planning to have a lion safari park near Ahmedabad to save the animal population in case of any epidemic outbreak. The state was also in news for sporadic incidents of attacks on migrant workers, especially from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, in October following the rape of a 14-month-old girl allegedly by a man from Bihar.
The violence led to exodus of over 75,000 labourers, prompting the government to appeal them to return, assuring them of adequate safety and security in the state. The state also witnessed violent protests by the Karni Sena as its members vandalised and set theatres ablaze in January against the release of Hindi film “Padmaavat”, based on the saga of a historic battle of 13th century between Maharaja Ratan Singh and his army of Mewar and Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi.
Protests continued for around a week and subsided only after theatre and multiplex owners decided not to screen the film in the state. After the high pitched Gujarat polls in 2017, this year went by largely without any big political development. However, prominent Koli community leader Kunvarji Bavaliya made news when he quit the Congress to join the BJP.
The sitting MLA from Jasdan also resigned from the state Assembly, necessitating a bypoll in the seat. After his induction in the BJP, Bavaliya was made a Cabinet minister in the Vijay Rupani-led state government and also fielded for the December 20 Jasdan bypoll against Congress candidate Avsar Nakiya. In January, Congress chose young Patel community leader Paresh Dhanani as the Leader of Opposition, while another young OBC leader Amit Chavda was made the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee chief.
Quota agitation leader Hardik Patel continued to hog limelight as he sat on an indefinite hunger strike in August over his demand for reservation to the Patidar community. However, when government did not budge, he ended his fast after 19 days. In another significant development, over a thousand farmers moved the Gujarat High Court against land acquisition for the government’s ambitious Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.
The hearing in the case is underway. In another key order, the HC acquitted former minister Maya Kodnani in the Naroda Patiya 2002 riot case. She was earlier convicted by a lower court and awarded life sentence. Former incharge DGP of Gujarat P P Pandey was ischarged by a special CBI court in the Ishrat Jahan alleged fake encounter case due to lack of evidence. However, the court turned down a similar application of former police officer D G Vanzara and N K Amin in the case.
Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt was also in the news after he was arrested by Gujarat Police in September in connection with a 22-year-old case pertaining to alleged planting of drugs to arrest a lawyer. Bhatt had earlier filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court against then chief minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of involvement in the 2002 riots in the state. Gujarat hosted Israel Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu in January. He and Prime Minister Modi displayed bonhomie as they held a grand roadshow, flew kites, praised and hugged each other, marking a deepening of bonds between the two countries.
The state also hosted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a day where he visited the Swaminarayan temple and delivered a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad in February. In November, the daughter of India’s “milkman” Dr Verghese Kurien rubbished former Gujarat minister Dileep Sanghani’s claim that Kurien diverted dairy cooperative Amul’s profit to fund religious conversions in the country. Sanghani had alleged that the late founder-chairman of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation funded religious conversions by Christian missionaries from Amul’s profits.