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The Indian Express : Top Stories


Friday, September 07, 2001   

A little bit of India on the banks of the Yangtze

Chongqing’s residents have Raj Kapoor in their heart, world’s biggest dam on drawing board


CHONGQING, SEPTEMBER 6: RAJ Kapoor will never know it, but he has something in common with Arundhati Roy. The actor-director-producer and the script-writer-turned-author meet faraway from their country of origin, in a land of Kapoor fans and big dams. In Chongqing city in south-west China, it’s a bit tough to believe that Hindi-Chini bhai bhai was the first casualty of the 1962 Indo-China war.

Awara hoon wafts through the smoky air of Chongqing’s hippest karaoke club. Chongqing TV’s biggest news broadcaster, Zhou Xiaohui, is holding stage. As People’s Liberation Army officers and foreigners from England and the United States look on, she flawlessly sings what she says is her favourite number, the ‘‘best I have ever heard’’. ‘‘It’s a wonderful tune, and Raj Kapoor and Nargis are the most beautiful couple,’’ she smiles.

Zhou is joined by Wan Xian, who can sing his favourite, Mausam Beeta Jaye from Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen. He even tells you why it is his favourite: ‘‘During the Cultural Revolution, I was purged for my liberal views and I had no friends for many years. But I had this one song for company.’’

Another fan Lin Hai is deeply hurt when he learns that the showman died years ago. Hai was part of the Red Guard in 1967, and as he travelled through China’s countryside to spread Chairman Mao’s message, he had Awara Hoon for company.

But Hindi film ditties aren’t the only reason the residents of Chongqing, south-west China’s most developed and most populated city (a 31 million population), are interested in India. Chongqing is where the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydro-electric project, is located. The Chinese may have devoured Arundhati Roy’s novel God of Small Things, but they are putting several miles between her views on big dams and theirs.

Massive in scale, ambitious in imagination, the Three Gorges Dam is ‘‘just like the Narmada dam is for you’’, says journalist Liu Qingyu. It is projected to generate 18,200 megawatts of power for provinces in south, east and central China. When completed, it will stretch across nearly a mile and tower 575 feet over the Yangtze, the world’s third longest river.

Construction for the dam began in 1994 and is scheduled to end in 2009, at a cost of over $24 billion. Its reservoir would stretch over 350 miles upstream. And, force the displacement of close to 1.2 million people. Sounds familiar?

When the dam gets built, over 13 cities, 140 towns, more than 1,600 villages and 300 factories will be submerged. Though Chongqing wants the dam, since its largest stretch, nearly 600 km, runs through the city, there are several opponents lined up on the other side of the banks.

The displaced are being housed in neighbouring areas, but the land they have received is less fertile than the Gorges area. Then, there is the age-old issue of sentiment. ‘‘People tell you they are willing to give up their land, but not their homeland,’’ says Liu.

Displacement has also resulted in a rise in crime in the region, say journalists: recently, a Buddha carving was stolen from the 900-year-old Dazu grottos near Chongqing. Though nearly two billion yuan ($250 million) was kept aside for excavation and preservation of artefacts in the region, the amount was slashed to 300 million ($37.5 million). Only a fraction of that sum has been distributed to local authorities since government officials have been unable to decide which agency should handle the money.

International criticism against the project has mounted, but the pro-dam lobby in Chongqing is suitably inspired by its pro-Narmada counterpart. This, says Mu Feng Jing of the Chongqing Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, is a sign that India and China as developing countries must cooperate. The world’s last big dams will be built in Asia’s two fastest developing economies, says Jing.

He has but one regret: India, unlike France or other western countries, hasn’t lent a hand to the Three Gorges project. But he is more sympathetic when he learns about India’s problems in completing its own dam. He thinks his government is more successful in ‘‘arranging’’ these matters of development.

Just today, in fact, the official Xinhua news agency reported from Chongqing that over 100,000 people from south-west China were resettled to build the dam.

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