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Wednesday 1 December 1999
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Confusion reigns supreme in Cong on kar seva

By Rajiv Shah

GANDHINAGAR: Utter confusion prevailed in the Congress with regard to the kar seva at the Sardar Sarovar dam site scheduled for December 4 in the absence of any definitive stand by the state party leadership on an issue that has split Gujarat's political leadership on Narmada as never before.

While state party chief C D Patel is mum on it, and with the man expected to become increasingly important in the Congress former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela in Delhi, others who matter make statements at will, thinking what they say is the party line.

Congress legislature party leader Amarsinh Chaudhary told The Times of India in Gandhinagar on Tuesday that his party had "no objection to the kar seva" since it "no more violates the Supreme Court directive", adding that the agitation was "directed against the state government".

However, he emphasised: "The Congress and its leaders would not participating in it because kar seva is led by a person who is not a party leader - Mr Sharad Joshi. We would have participated had one of our leaders taken the lead... Mr Sanat Mehta would participate in the kar seva in his individual capacity."

Not aware of the fact that Urmilaben Patel, the lady who took the lead a few years ago at Ferkuva in the anti-Narmada Bachao Andolan agitation, has already reached Vadodara to organise kar seva, Mr Chaudhary said, "I do not think she will participate ..."

However, he did not agree with the BJP government's view that the kar seva would amount to a contempt of the Supreme Court on Narmada.

"Why should anyone be prejudiced now when the raising of dam height is no more the issue? The kar sevaks only propose to spill water from the dam, that's all."

Mr Chaudhary also said, he did not see any conspiracy in the agitation but as Mr Joshi's banner was "not acceptable" to the Congress, his party would take up Narmada-related demonstrations in January next year in the Sardar Sarovar dam's command areas, mainly the North Gujarat and Saurashtra, to highlight the drinking water problem in the state. "Kar seva will not split Gujarat," Mr Chaudhary asserted. "Of course, there could be some split in pro-Narmada activists."

Others in the Congress, however, feel that Mr Chaudhary's "decision" ostensibly on behalf of the state party not to participate in the kar seva was not correct. Congress MLA Siddharth Patel, son of Chimanbhai Patel, known to be the most powerful pro-Narmada campaigner in Gujarat ever, told The Times of India that Mr Chaudhary had "possibly not understood the importance of kar seva in clear terms."

Mr Patel said, "The focus now is to utilise the water lying idle in the reservoir and begin irrigating at least arid areas of Vadodara, Bharuch and parts of Panchmahal. It is possible to put up 200 HP pumps and pump out waters into the Narmada canal. Let waters begin flowing, let people see what kind of benefits might accrue from the Narmada waters once the dam is fully complete."

Pointing out that the Supreme Court's objection was only with regard to the oustees' rehabilitation and linking that issue with the dam height, Mr Patel said, "We are not touching that at all. A number of Congressmen, including my mother Urmilaben Patel, Satyajit Gaekwad, Sanat Mehta, all the Congress MLAs from Vadodara will participate in the big event. The Youth Congress has already declared its intention to be part of the kar seva."

Further emphasising that the government was, in fact, "seeking to misdirect the people of Gujarat by suggesting that a Supreme Court hearing was taking place on December 2", Mr Patel said that "this is simply not true. It's not hearing. The apex court would only give a new date on December 2 for further hearing. Its legal implications need to be clarified".

Justifying his participation, he said, "It's not a political function. It's non-politically motivated. Hence, everyone is free to participate in it."

Commented a senior Congressman close to Shankersinh Vaghela when asked to suggest what was the Congress' stand on kar seva: "We are now in a 'zindabad' party. You do whatever you like, and everything would be valid so long as you do not criticise Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family. Otherwise, you are free to do what you want. Therefore, where's the question of a Congress stand on the issue?"

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