Ramar Sethu and the Lessons for the Narmada Bachao Andolan

Now we all know why the Narmada Bachao Andolan failed. Despite numerous marches, despite the indefatigable Medha Patkar’s serial hunger strikes, despite the efforts of many grass- roots workers and despite Arundhati Roy’s eloquence.They all failed to find a connection between the site of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and Lord Rama.

They could not even find an association with Shabari, the Bhil woman who offered the gods ‘bers’ and that apparently were left half- eaten. It was left to the RSS parivar to discover the exact spot where the encounter took place, and it started the Shabari Kumbh Mela to commemorate the event. Too bad the spot did not lie exactly where the Sardar Sarovar dam stands.

But the NBA has itself to blame for not having done a one up and discovered the place sooner, since the RSS discovered the site only in October 2004. Had the NBA done its due diligence it certainly would have located that place to be exactly where the Sardar Sarovar Dam stands today. And the RSS brigade would have stepped in to lend the NBA a helping hand.

The NBA could then have outsourced the entire opposition to dam to the Hindutva brigade that certainly needs no further inspiration to get going for a cause than its association with Lord Rama. It would have deepened fissures within the Hindutva family and even have dislodged the pride of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, wrecking the family from within.

The NBA’s fault lay in that it tried to oppose the dam in the name of the poor, in the name of the adivasis who would be displaced. Worse, it tried to base its case on data and “scientific evidence”, which was easily countered by equally authentic statistics and real scientific evidence from the state governments led by both the BJP and the Congress.

Contrast this with the case for the Ramar Sethu also called the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project. All it needed to build opposition to the project was not the question of its ecological and environmental impact, not speeches in the name of the poor or its RoI but to invoke an association with Lord Rama. So much so that it woke up the sleeping Dravidian in M. Karunanidhi, who went asking for Lord Rama’s engineering qualifications.

On Saturday, addressing a public meeting at Erode in Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, while opposing the stalling of Ram Sethu project, had said “who is this Ram? From which engineering college he graduated?” (link)

This would be amusing were it not just so silly. Not so much the question of Lord Rama’s engineering degree but that of Karunanidhi remembering that there was once upon a time a movement called the self respect movement that he belonged to and that had posed questions like these in circa 1967. The era of Rip Van Winkles is not yet over! Soon he may also remember that Periyar garlanded Lord Rama’s statues with slippers.

From the point of view of those who oppose the project from environment and displacement concerns and who seem to be getting only the space in the “Letters to the Editor” page, like this one, the good news is that everyone from Lal Krishan Advani to Ram Vilas Vedanti is now on the job.

Free of cost.

Having been out of work (and media attention) since Advani’s Jinnah fiasco and Vedanti’s appearance in a TV ‘sting operation’ few months back, they now have a serious task at hand. Advaniji is already planning yet another Rath Yatra.

Those with a Marxist inclination need not feel out of place either- Karunanidhi thanking the VHP for issuing the call for his beheading illustrates one of the central dictum of Marxist dialectics- the unity and struggle of opposites.

DMK chief M Karunanidhi reacted curtly to the threat, saying “the head is not just something that is on your shoulder, but it’s also an address.” Talking to CNN-IBN, he said: “Even if someone takes off my head my address will remain in TN.”

With that much needed reassurance for the inhabitants of Tamil Nadu, the stage is now set for a win- win deal for everyone. Environmentalism in India is now in safe hands. The fishermen whose livelihood is directly impacted by the project and who have had no one to listen to them now have hordes of Ram Bhaktas battling for them. Amen!

(For anyone interested in a non- Hindutva opposition perspective to the project, based on outmoded ‘scientific’ studies, see this paper in that quaint journal called the Economic and Political Weekly. Link via Pankaj’s blog. Also check out the Wikipedia entry)

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Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

11 thoughts on “Ramar Sethu and the Lessons for the Narmada Bachao Andolan”

  1. Wonderful post Bhupinder! I also hear a lot of ‘environmental’ talks these days. Yes, from the same lot who have been up in arms against that ‘communist, pseudo-secular lady’, Medha Patkar.

  2. Ha…neatly written. initially i thought I was in Kufr’s blog (hehe) [does he come here?]…so you can be cynical 🙂
    and this Narmada joke will sell for sure….nice idea and well put!

  3. Hallo comrade

    That’s a great post with your usual finesse. It’s amazing to see such a crisp writing. i have also wrote on the same issue quoting from you. pls read and give your valuable comments. you can read it here.

  4. @Raza: Sometimes I wonder how deep, or shallow, Indian secularism is. More of then than not, it tethers on the brink on a collapse.
    @Jo/bvn/arusu/kulpreet: As you might have noticed this post is categorized under “Humour”. If it turns out to be a humour of the dry and wry type, I think it is because of the sheer cynicism that the situation breeds. People are willing to break each other’s heads over gods, but give a damn to the poor.

  5. Do you think there can be a Hindu opposition to the Setu as opposed to a Hindutva opposition to the Setu? If yes, what do you have to say to that? I just want to know.

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