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Saturday 4 December 1999
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NJA leaders go underground as rumours take over

By Raja Bose

VADODARA: Friday, 9 am: Narmada Jan Andolan leader Sharad Joshi is at his office at Mangalya, 79, Alkapuri. Former state minister and Sardar Sarovar Nigam chairman Sanat Mehta, Congress leader Satyajitsinh Gaekwad and other leaders hover around him as cars get readied outside.

11 am: Sharad Joshi drives out of his office in a white Tata Sumo, reaching Chhani where about 500 farmers from Maharashtra have been housed in a gurudwara. He meets them and comes back to Mangalya.

11.30 am: Joshi is huddled in a meeting with his close aides, planning the course of action.

That was the last time people here and those who had trooped in from various states to support his movement saw him.

Rumour of the Gujarat government declaring kar seva at the dam site at Kevadiya an "anti-state activity" began doing its rounds in the city. And, by noon, Mr Joshi, Mr Mehta and Mr Gaekwad had gone underground. The fate of the kar seva remained hanging even as kar sevaks piled up at the transit camps at Chhani, Waghodia, Sayajigunj and Wadi.

It was then that telephones at the newspaper offices began ringing with NJA activists providing news of arrests being made in the city and districts.

"As many as 200 farmers from Haryana, belonging to the Bharatiya Kisan Union, were arrested by the police from the station premises. The deputy superintendent of police of the GRP, who was there when the arrests were made, claimed that the movement had been declared anti-state and strict action would be taken against the kar sevaks," NJA activist Madan Diwan told The Times of India.

Mr Shimpi, when contacted, said that he had not made such a statement and that only 22 people were 'detained.' "They were not arrested but detained under Section 68 of the Bombay Police Act. It is a simple preventive action," Mr Shimpi said.

Vadodara district collector Anil Mukim told The Times of India that he had not received any official intimation from Gandhinagar declaring the kar seva "anti-state."

The telephone at the NJA office rang constantly, as news of police crackdown was trickled from various places. "A number of farmers from Maharashtra who were staying at the camp at the Chhani Gurudwara had gone out to shop and were arrested," Mr Diwan said. The Chhani police, however, refused to confirm this. By evening, news of as many as 35 arrests in Valsad had reached Vadodara.

Narmada Jal Andolan leaders had been apprehending trouble since early morning. According to sources, Mr Sanat Mehta even called up the city police commissioner, asking him to refrain from making any arrests in the city and not putting up barricades on the highways.

While anxious faces moved about the NJA office, talks of a patch-up between the state government and NJA leaders began doing the rounds. Sources said Narmada development minister Jay Narain Vyas was in touch with the NJA leaders.

The Economic Times


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