Attack on NBA highlights emotional appeal of SSP
By Bharat Desai
AHMEDABAD: The ransacking of the Narmada Bachao Andolan's headquarters in Vadodara on Thursday night has come as yet another evidence of the high emotional appeal of the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat and the resulting intolerance to any opposition on the subject. But with project officials facing the same kind of hostility in the submergence areas of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra where they try to persuade affected families to accept the rehabilitation package, its only inevitable that the endless conflict will get further fuelled with this incident.
This is the second attack on the NBA's headquarters in Vadodara, which was forced to shift its office from the more vulnerable Dandiya Bazaar locality to Ellora Park six years back because of threats from pro-dam groups. The attack comes as another sequel to a series of incidents over the last 10 years which has seen houses of anti-dam activists in Gujarat being stoned, books being burnt because they happened to be written by pro-NBA authors and rehabilitation officials being stripped and paraded naked in the valley.
On March 21 this year Mahadev Raval, a rehabilitation official from Gujarat, was beaten up, stripped and paraded naked by NBA supporters in Chota Barada village of Khargone district of MP. The incident had evoked an angry reaction from the Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel who complained that MP government was not providing any security to Gujarat's officials who visit the 190-odd villages in MP which will be submerged by the dam. The chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Bhupendrasinh Chudasama had complained of officials having to encounter tremendous hostility in MP villages by NBA supporters. Mr Raval said the activists who had manhandled and humiliated him enjoyed full support of the police and administration in MP.
Gujarati writer, Ashwini Bhatt, one of the handful of NBA's supporters in Gujarat, says his house has been attacked four times in the past by pro-dam elements, once when Medha Patkar was at his home in Ahmedabad preparing to address a press conference there. Bhatt has translated into Gujarati the article on the Narmada movement written by Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy but says no publisher is ready to print copies fearing the wrath of the politicians and the government.
Ten years back, the celebrated Bharatnatyam exponent, Mrinalini Sarabhai, and politician Purushottam Mavlankar, who are settled in Ahmedabad, were among many artistes who signed a statement addressed to Rajiv Gandhi expressing concern over the fate of tribals in the submergence areas. The statement caused a huge public outcry in Gujarat forcing Mavlankar to withdraw his statement and cost Ms Sarabhai her job in a public-sector undertaking. She hasn't spoken anything on Narmada ever since.
Noted lawyer of Ahmedabad Girish Patel, who also supports the NBA, has been attacked many times by pro-dam groups. Mr Patel himself receives a lot of hate mail for his support to the NBA and some years back, two donkeys carrying a placard bearing his name, were paraded in front of his house by pro-dam activists.
After Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for The God of Small Things, a Rotary Club in Ahmedabad had decided to invite her as a speaker at its annual celebration but most of the members turned down the proposal when Ms Roy openly attacked the SSP and even led the 'Rally for the Valley' earlier this year. The invitation sent to Ms Roy by the club was withdrawn following protests and fears that pro-dam groups would attack the function. In fact, after Ms Roy led the rally, Youth Congress and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha activists burnt copies of her other book, The Greater Common Good and warned book stores across Gujarat not to keep copies of her books.