The Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to celebrate his birthday by inaugurating the Sardar Sarovar Project – even as 40000 families who continue to be denied rehabilitation and resettlement, protested by standing night and day in the rising river water.
This move was a last ditch, desperate measure by the BJP to try and shore up its ‘pro-development’ image in the eyes of Gujarat voters before the upcoming Assembly polls. Though Modi and the BJP projected the so-called ‘Gujarat model of development’ in his 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, the BJP in Gujarat has been highly defensive on the failure of two decades of BJP rule on all tangible measures of development in the state as well as Modi’s failure as PM to keep his promises on the fronts of prices, employment and development. Typically, Modi tried to draw eyes away from these failures with the Sardar Sarovar extravaganza.
But this bid too failed. In spite of BJP’s claim that CMs of all BJP ruled states would participate, the CMs of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh conspicuously kept a distance from the inauguration, and only the Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani participated. The 2000 Varanasi priests who were supposed to perform a ‘maha aarti’ at the event also stayed away.
Moreover, the claims of the completion of the project are exaggerated: in reality, two decades of BJP Governments in Gujarat have managed to complete less than 50% of the work of canal construction. The dam height has been raised leading to submergence of 192 villages – in spite of the fact that the Government has failed to comply with the required provisions of catchment area treatment, command area development, compensatory afforestation as well as rehabilitation and resettlement of all the affected people.
Modi had in the past made grand claims that the Sardar Sarovar Project was needed to provide the drought-ridden farmers of Kutch and Saurashtra with water: this claim has proved totally hollow, since the water has instead gone to feed the greed of corporates like Coca Cola and Tata Nano while the farmers continue to suffer.
The world over, the rationale of mega dams stands discarded and discredited: their human and environmental costs proving extremely high and unjustified by their meagre benefits that bely the inflated claims made on their behalf. Moreover, the Sardar Sarovar Project got legal approval only on the condition that it would meet the demands of rehabilitation and resettlement: it has failed to do so.
Modi’s attempts to appeal to ‘Gujarat pride’ and stoke prejudice against the thousands of villagers in the Narmada Bachao Andolan by painting them as enemies of Gujarat’s development are way past their sell-by date. The people of Gujarat and India will continue to hold Modi and BJP Governments accountable for their failure to provide substantial pro-people development and for, on the contrary, dealing death-blows to survival and livelihood through demonetization and GST.