Thursday, October 21, 2010

Program to Mark 25 Years of NBA - A Missed Opportunity

The program to mark 25 years of the Narmada Bachao Andolan starts today (22 Oct 2010) with a rally and public meeting at Dhadgaon. Several thousand people in the valley are expected to assemble at Dhadgaon and on 23 Oct at Badwani. And several hundred are likely to reach there from rest of the country. In the last 10 days or so, anyone that one talks to or emails generally has been asking one another - are you going?

25 Years of the Narmada struggle! It is on one hand a very proud moment for all of us that the struggle has gone on for this long with determination and tenacity; at the same time, it is immensely sad that people have had to struggle so long. It is an important occasion for all those who have been involved to meet and share. However such an occasion cannot be a mere celebration. Therefore, it is was good to see that NBA had decided to call the program "Reflections from the Narmada: 25 Years and Beyond." Undoubtedly, the occasion of the struggle completing 25 years is the right occasion to come together, share, celebrate and also reflect.

However, the actual program came as a disappointment to me. The way the program is structured, there will be little time for any reflections, and little energy - physical as well as mental - as people get tired from the rallies, public meetings, travel from Dhadgaon to Badwani, and various other programs. These two days packed with event after event are certainly not conducive for reflections, though they will surely be exciting and stimulating in their own way. Of course, there will be opportunities for people to speak from the stage, but that is not really the best way to reflect and share the highs and the lows of the struggle.

In terms of meeting people and spending time together too, days packed with travel, rallies and public meetings are the least appropriate occasions. A more relaxed event where people come together and spend 2 or more days together would have been much more useful for this purpose.

Therefore, this will be one more occasion of an opportunity missed. It is a chance lost for all of us involved in the Narmada struggle to come together and recollect the joyous and the difficult times, and do some honest reflections, so that the struggle can become stronger and even more of an inspiration for others.

May be there is a feeling that the NAPM meeting that is to immediately follow will serve as a platform for some reflections. If this is the case (and I am not saying it is), it would be unfair to both NBA and NAPM. For all their common threads and people, NBA and NAPM are distinct entities, with different processes and identities. The NAPM meeting would certainly have its own agenda and its priorities, so it cannot be a forum for NBA's reflections. The agenda of the NAPM meeting also reflects this. Also, there are many people who have been intensely involved with NBA but not with NAPM. So a process of reflection around the 25 years of Narmada struggle needs its own platform, of the NBA.

This was also a time for inclusiveness. It was an important occasion to bring together (literally and metaphorically) all those who have been involved in NBA in the last two and half decades, leaving out those few who have lost the way and gone on to indulge in corrupt practices. Therefore, it would have been nice if senior activists of the Andolan who are still active in the valley in struggles around Narmada dams - like Alok, Silvi, Bhagwanbhai - who have also worked for many years in the struggle around Sardar Sarovar, the Bargi activists etc. had also been involved in the planning and organization of the program and they were also among those inviting people to the valley.

While I am not going for the program due to some work here that cannot be adjusted, there is no hiding the fact that these two things had already affected my enthusiasm for the program. However, it was worse when I saw that some senior local activists of Gujarat had not even been informed about the program. Nandini's email of 19th Oct about it is self-explanatory and I am giving it below. This is simply not done when emails and phones were being made far and wide. Nandini's email:

One disturbing incident concerning the 23rd 24th NBA program at Dhadaon and Badwani has prompted me to say something of immediate importance concerning the program.

While I was booking my tickets for the program today (19th Oct 2010), I wanted to coordinate my visit with the local senior leaders/activists of Gujarat, who have worked in most adverse of circumstances to build the struggle in an extremely hostile State, around the SSP Empire, in and around the very dam itself. I therefore called today two of the senior most local leaders and activists of Gujarat and in whose house the NBA karayalaya functioned and whose entire family has withstood incomprehensible State pressure on a daily basis for years (I need not dwell more on their contribution because that would be an embarrassment) Prabhubhai Tadvi and Kapilaben of Waghadia. I called them just to know when they were reaching for the program. I was shocked when Prabhubhai asked me "What program? Where? When?" Even Kapilaben did not know anything about the program. These key activists/local leaders whom I am sure everyone, even those remotely concerned with NBA would know, had no idea of the program at all, till I called them today! I was disturbed all the more because they are not an exception. Rasikbhai Gajanan and Bhima Tadvi, other senior activists who had been NBA full timers for a very long period in Gujarat also had no idea of the program till last night when I called them up to know of their travel plans for the program.

This is a serious matter since it is not the question of these 4 senior oustee activists/leaders alone. Since these senior local people of NBA in Gujarat do not know of the program, it is likely that the second line of local leadership, activists and Andolan karies of Kevadia colony and many R&R sites have also been left out. This is painful because while NBA invites people from far and wide, it has chosen to ignore those very oustees of Gujarat who not only built this Sangathan, but whose Sangathan it actually is! And these are people who built the andolan against an extremely hostile state and in the times when NBA was being beaten and bruised. Once again I need not dwell on the significance of the Sangathan in Gujarat that they lead collectively, with many others.

And let us not forget that Narmada has been a witness to a struggle by its communities right from the year 1961 when the lands for Kevdia Colony were first acquired and many tribals who fought their dispossession then were jailed. Few of them like Muljikaka still survive to tell the story of how they fought against all odds 50 years ago and still continue to struggle.

See you all in Badwani. - Nandini

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