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The Hindu on : Gujarat averts a crisis

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Tuesday, December 07, 1999

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Opinion | Previous

Gujarat averts a crisis

By Manas Dasgupta

GANDHINAGAR, DEC. 6. The symbolic ``kar seva'' by the pro-dam Narmada Jan Andolan, an offshoot of the Maharashtra Shetkari Sangathan, at the dam site in Kevadiya Colony on Saturday was a major success for the BJP Government in Gujarat in defusing the crisis threatening to cause further delay in the implementation of the long-awaited project.

The Andolan all along had the tacit support of the Government. Initially it encouraged the pro-dam forces to plan massive demonstrations both within and outside the State to counter the tirade against it by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and tell the world that the supporters of the dam project outnumbered opponents. But the timings of the kar seva programme proved inconvenient to the Government in view of the case pending before the Supreme Court. When the programme was announced by the Sangathan chief, Mr. Sharad Joshi, in October, the Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, even offered to be present during the ceremony but later it dawned on the State Government that its open support might be misunderstood by the apex court and could prejudice its case as the court criticised the NBA leaders, Ms. Medha Patkar and Ms. Arundhati Roy, for organising public rallies against the project even when it was seized of the matter.

The State Government objected to the NJA offering the kar seva inside the restricted areas of the dam for fear of the Madhya Pradesh Government making it an issue in the apex court and cause further delay in the project implementation.

The Government offered to cooperate if Mr. Joshi shifted the site of the kar seva outside the restricted areas which would not come under court purview. But his refusal, apparently for fear of losing credibility among his supporters, made the Government impose prohibitory orders.

Significantly the Narmada Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaynarayan Vyas, could achieve the objective he was propagating earlier by making the kar sevaks toe his line. Mr. Vyas had no objection to the kar sevaks collecting water downstream, but Mr. Joshi and his Congress(I) supporters were insisting on climbing the dam wall to collect water upstream and pour it into the main canal as a symbolic gesture of ``initiating'' the project.

First Mr. Vyas ordered the authorities concerned to release a substantial quantum of water from the dam to reduce the level and thereby make it impossible for the kar sevaks to reach for the water. Later, he allowed a handful of kar sevaks and their main leaders, including Mr. Joshi and the former Union Minister, Mrs. Urmilaben Patel, to ``penetrate'' the police security at the dead of night and surface downstream to offer the kar seva.In a bid to avert a confrontation between the security staff and the demonstrators, the Government did not allow the kar sevaks to march to Kevadiya Colony in large numbers and detained most of them at transit camps in Baroda, Ankleshwar, Netrang and other places where they had been waiting to leave for the dam site the next morning. It allowed the leaders to perform kar seva downstream as was originally suggested by Mr. Vyas. This, apparently, was a face-saving device for both the State Government and the NJA since a confrontation between the police and the pro-dam forces could have been counter-productive. The BJP leadership, which was planning to send party workers in large numbers to Kevadiya Colony to squat on the roads and prevent the kar sevaks from entering the restricted areas, was also persuaded against implementing the programme to prevent a clash between the two sections of the pro-dam forces.

The former national president of the Youth Congress(I) and supporter of the NJA, Mr. Satyajit Gaekwad, claimed that Mr. Vyas was in touch with the Andolan leaders the previous day to persuade them to perform a token kar seva downstream and resolve the crisis for the time being but backtracked later and the local police threatened to arrest all the leaders to frustrate the move.

Mr. Gaekwad's claim that the Andolan leaders planned to march through the jungle route to reach the dam site and flout the prohibitory orders seems untenable. The move was neither surprising nor clandestine as the NJA leaders had even taken presspersons with them during the night journey and it is difficult to comprehend that the police could be unaware of the route. Apparently Mr. Joshi and company were enacting the drama skilfully scripted by Mr. Vyas, and a major crisis surrounding the ``lifeline of Gujarat'' was averted.

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