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Security sought for Medha, Arundhati for 'bigger fight'

By A Staff Reporter

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Chambers of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President Mukesh Patel has written to the state government to provide the necessary security arrangements for a debate on Narmada planned some time in the month of June in which two Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leaders - Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy - have been invited.

Invitations were despatched by the GCCI to the two NBA leaders three days back and though they have still not received the letters, Patkar has confirmed that she would be ready for a debate after confirming the rules of the game.

The event comes close on the heels of The Big Fight programme on television in which Gujarat, represented by Narmada development minister Jaynarayan Vyas, was isolated because all the other panellists were anti-dam. Mukesh Patel promised the debate would be a "bigger fight" than the televised version.

However , even the pro-Narmada groups, which had sworn not to let the NBA set its foot in Gujarat, are sceptical about the outcome of the debate, given the extreme positions that both sides have on the subject.

Narmada Abhiyan chief Krishnaprasad Patel said, "There is no meeting ground between the NBA and us. There could be a meaningful dialogue with the MP government on the issue, but with the NBA people a debate will not serve any purpose, except for its propaganda value."

The organisers of the debate are also aware that the debate could spark off trouble because Narmada is an emotive issue in Gujarat. Mukesh Patel said the security of the participants would be guaranteed because "we want to hold a free, fair and frank debate with utmost grace, dignity and in a democratic way."

Observers, however, say some groups are likely to protest over the invitation extended to the NBA which is seen as a stumbling block in the path of the Sardar Sarovar Project. Trouble has broken out between groups for and against the project on several occasions in the past.

Last year in the month of March, Mahadev Rawal, a retired engineer, who was assisting in the SSP rehabilitation work was allegedly beaten up, stripped and paraded naked by irate oustees of the Narmada dam in Chota Barada village near Barwani in MP. A tearful Rawal was presented before newsmen by the Narmada authorities in Gandhinagar even as the NBA denied that any such incident took place.

Similarly, after Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for The God of Small Things, copies of her other book The Greatest Common Good were burnt both by the Youth Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha in Gujarat because it was critical of the SSP. The activists had warned book-sellers not to stock any of Roy's books in Gujarat. A Rotary Club in the city, that thought of felicitating Roy for winning the Booker Prize, also backed out following protests from members and fears that pro-Narmada groups would create trouble at the function.

The two sides have been avoiding a debate with each other for several years now because they felt the organisers of the debate were trying to rig the event one way or another. Patkar said on two occasions debates were organised in Mumbai on the issue, but the then Narmada minister Babubhai Patel and former Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam chief Sanat Mehta did not participate after giving their initial consent.

On the other hand, Krishnaprasad Patel said pro-Narmada groups had met NBA leaders 10 years back in Vanasthali and Tapovan in South Gujarat. He said an invitation was sent to the NBA for a debate four years back, but they declined.

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