Facing harassment by government, Narmada Bachao Andolan chooses electoral politics with Aam Aadmi Party as its anchor
People of central India who have been displaced by dams on the Narmada river are the latest Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members. The announcement was made by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Alok Agarwal in New Delhi on Monday evening. The announcement came shortly after social activist and NBA leader, Medha Patkar, announced full-fledged support to AAP in Mumbai.
Agarwal, who has been in the forefront of the struggle waged by dam-displaced people of Narmada valley project that spans the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, announced full support to AAP on behalf of thousands of people from these areas.
“Hundreds of thousands of oustees affected by the Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, Indira Sagar, Sardar Sarovar, Man, Upper Beda, Jobat and Bargi dams have been fighting for their rights, under the aegis of the NBA. Their protests, fasts, jal-satyagrahas and non-violent actions are suppressed by repeated arrests, jails, beatings, and indifference by the state. In the coming days, these dam affected people would join the political party following which we will chose candidates from among these communities to fight the upcoming election,” said Agarwal.
AAP leader and Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, said the party would only be strengthened by the support of peoples’ organisations.
With Lok Sabha elections scheduled for April, Agarwal plans to contest with an AAP ticket from Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. “In the next few weeks, we will decide on the candidates and finalise a strategy to fight the upcoming elections,” said Agarwal. Earlier in Mumbai, NBA leader Medha Patkar said NBA does not consider electoral politics as untouchable. “We have studied their (AAP’s) documents and we have found that micro to macro-economic view point is more or less reflected in it. We will further continue with the dialogue and would like to contribute our views in not just the manifesto but also in the working culture and their working documents,” Patkar said at a press conference in Mumbai. She also added that similar movements around securing natural resources such as land areas “illegally” occupied by controversial projects like Lavasa are also going to join AAP. Agarwal, on the other hand, said the next course of action would be finalised after meetings on January 16 and 17.
Dam oustees still threatened
The most recent incident cited by NBA activists took place on January 5 in Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh where police arrested 40 dam-affected adivasis for raising crops on government land. When NBA, supported by 200 oustees, protested against these arrests by the local administration, stating these displaced persons were not given any land after land was acquired for Sardar Sarovar and Jobat dams, the district administration released them on January 8. According to National Alliance for Peoples’ Movements (NAPM), Madhya Pradesh district administration took back the cases filed against 40 adivasis, while land settlement of the oustees is being taken up by district administration. The push for the land settlement of the oustees have been taken on a war-footing now since Gujarat government wants to increase the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to the full reservoir capacity of 134 metre in Gujarat to meet its water needs, said NBA leaders. As per Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT), the dam height could only be increased after relief and rehabilitation is carried out.
Last September, NBA organised a jal satyagraha (protesters sitting in water) near the Indira Sagar dam which was followed by similar protests in Khandwa, Dewas and Harda districts respectively. Earlier in May, Madhya Pradesh government had cleared a Rs. 212-crore package for the Omkareshwar dam displaced. NBA intensified its protests following the announcement of the package, while demanding the same for Indira Sagar oustees. Yet another demand by NBA was that the Madhya Pradesh government authorities not increase the water level of the Indira Sagar above 260 metre.
According to Agarwal, 1,500 homes and 15,000 acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) were submerged last monsoon while nearly 70 villages turned into islands. A case is still pending in the the Supreme Court to prevent the raising of the water level. It has been estimated by NBA that more 200,000 persons have been displaced by a series of dams on the Narmada river.
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