NALINI NAYAK'S RESPONSE TO GAIL OMVEDT'S
OPEN LETTER TO ARUNDHATI ROY

Dear Gail,

It is quite sometime since we have met but I do keep reading your articles in the Hindu and so am in touch. Recently I have read your open letter to Arundhati Roy and it stimulates me to send you a comment.

While I am all for open debate on the issues and positions that social movements take up, I am taken aback by the fact that you chose this particular time to write this letter at a time when the NBA is under tremendous pressure in a last bid to insist on the rehabilitation of the evictees of the SSP.

You do bring to the fore strategic issues for movement building like the linking of the peasants of the drought and irrigated areas, people of the catchment and command areas and working on constructive alternatives. All of these surely need to be heeded and from what I know of the NBA I think big efforts have been made in these lines but not with equal success.

You also mention a number of other movements of displaced people that I do not know much about but if they are as alive as you say, with indigenous leadership then it is surprising that alliances have not been built.

You also take this opportunity to challenge Medha's leadership and style of leadership. Regarding the latter, no leader is ever flawless and one has also to assess what one sees and hears realising the role that the media plays in projecting 'leaders', much to the dismay of those individuals sometimes. But regarding Medha's respect and acknowledgement for the adivasis that make up the bulk of the movement, I think you may not be well informed. Young fishworker activists, and others from the south, who have spent time in various struggles of the NBA have come back full of praise for Medha's and others close and deep interaction with the adivasi leaders and the support they extend to provide the platform for them to speak for themselves. As middle class activists, we must all admit that this is easier said than done because of the many facets of each struggle and the different levels at which interventions have to be made. At this point I wonder why you are so negative about the middle class support to such movements because it is of prime importance that working class movements are able to convince sections of the middle class about their perspective and thereby rally wider support for their cause.

Now, regarding the cause 'NO to big dams' while you do raise important points regarding this demand, I feel you neglect certain others. We will all admit that there certainly have been some significant gains from big dams but we do not have any real information or study which compares the initial promises of these mega projects to the actual achievements when they are in operation. There are certainly no cost benefit analysis either. Such studies are imperative to prove both yours and the NBAs positions.

Finally, you allegation that the NBA has not given due consideration to the alternatives porposed is not correct. They did make the Parangpe-Joy study widely available and used it as their tool to challenge the logic of big dams. They have not been able to move into implementation for various reasons but they and all of us would agree with you that Niyogi's strategy of 'Sangrash and Nirman' should be the double pronged strategy of all such movements.

Gail, I feel sure that people in the NBA would be open for discussion with anybody who is in solidarity with the cause. Unfortunately your open letter seems more an attempt to take the punch out of the present struggle as momentum is building up, rather than to provide rallying points that can take the struggle ahead.

You and I know how difficult it is to keep the struggle going. We need to build broad alliances and work together in solidarity.

Sincerely,

Nalini Nayak