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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : Govt. in a dilemma over 'kar seva'

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Saturday, December 04, 1999


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Govt. in a dilemma over 'kar seva'

By Manas Dasgupta

BARODA, DEC. 3. The BJP Government in Gujarat is facing an acid test on the Narmada dam issue with the Maharashtra-based farmers' organisation, the Shetkari Sangathan, refusing to pay any heed to its advice to defer or postpone the `kar seva' in support of the long-pending dam project scheduled to begin from tomorrow.

While, on the one hand, the State Government is worried that the proposed `kar seva' may prejudice its case pending before the Supreme Court, on the other, opposing the `kar seva' has provided an opportunity to its critics to malign it as ``anti-Narmada,'' an image no political party in the State can afford to allow to have.

The State Government's decision to oppose the Sangathan apparently came as an after-thought, after the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Digvijay Singh, threatened to make it an issue in the apex court if it allowed the agitationists to offer `kar seva' to ``dig up'' the Irrigation By-Pass Tunnel (IBPT). When the Shetkari Sangathan Chief Mr. Sharad Joshi had initially announced the kar seva programme in October, the State Government did not raise any objections and on the contrary the Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, had even offered to be present during the symbolic gesture.

Later conceding the State Government's request, Mr. Joshi changed the mode of `kar seva' and instead of ``digging'' the IBPT, to which Mr. Digvijay Singh had raised objections, decided to form a human chain on the dam wall to draw water from the main dam as a symbolic gesture to press for an early implementation of the project. But that too was not acceptable to the State Government which apprehended that it could reduce its credibility in the eyes of the apex court.

But by the time the State Government advised Mr. Joshi against the `kar seva', it was too late. Mr. Joshi has created a new banner, ``the Narmada Jan Andolan'', to carry out the pro-Narmada agitation as opposed to the anti-Narmada campaign by the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Looking for a new political platform after he started losing popularity in his home State, Mr. Joshi was unwilling to backtrack and squander the opportunity to become a leader of the farming community in Gujarat.

The support from a section of the Congress(I) leaders and the non-government organisations further encouraged Mr. Joshi to throw a challenge to the State Government and the ruling party which has also decided to send volunteers to prevent the `kar sevaks' from marching towards the dam.

For the first time in the State's history, the Congress(I) and the NGOs stand divided on the Narmada issue though both the sides propagate the cause of its early implementation. The issue so far was one binding factor for all political parties and the State's NGOs who stood solidly behind the state government, irrespective of the party in power.

While the Congress(I) has so far refused to take a stand on the `kar seva', some of its leaders have lent support to Mr. Joshi only to criticise the BJP Government in the State and help them to regain the lost ground. Most of the Congress(I) leaders who backed the `kar seva' are those who have either been denied party ticket in the last Lok Sabha elections or those who were defeated in the elections. The only exception is the former Chief Minister, Mr. Shankarsinh Waghela, who is now a Congress(I) MP, and who would not leave any opportunity to attack the BJP Government.

The battle-lines have been clearly drawn for a scuffle between the two sections of the pro-dam forces and the police. And any inept handling of the situation may take away from the BJP the advantage it gained from overcoming a series of obstacles in the way of the implementation of the project during the last 18 months, including resumption of the construction of the main dam under the apex court's instructions after a gap of over four years, securing income tax exemptions for the Narmada bonds to raise additional resources and shipment of hydel power machinery from Japan which had remained stuck for nearly a decade.


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