Victory dance of the impotent

It is sickening to see the Union home minister rejoice when dam oustees despair

Published: Thursday 30 November 2000

Small is beautiful. But not to the big people. Small doesn't help siphon funds. It doesn't give huge opportunities to contractors, politicians and bureaucrats. It requires a decentralised mode of thinking, which is diametrical to the motives of India's politicians and administrators -- more and more centralisation of power and control. Moreover, even if the big projects are passably successful, it is easy to show their benefits. Quite simply, benefits of a decentralised approach are decentralised. So, even if it performs better than a centralised plan, it is not as visible, at least to the media, which rides piggyback on the rich and the powerful. But haven't we heard all this before? Why are we saying these things all over again? Well, it is just that Indian politicians never give up. Two recent statements prove the point, and in two different ways.

The first is by Union home minister Lal Krishna Advani. It was October 31, the 126th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India's first home minister. Speaking at the site of the Sardar Sarovar dam, after inaugurating construction work that lay stalled for six years, Advani broke into the kind of jingoism that took one back to the days of the Soviet Union. When big and bulky was good, the symbol of a powerful country raring to take on the world. They were heady days indeed. Then reality struck back.

The remains of the Soviet Union are in ugly shape. Led by Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States is suffering horribly for the mistakes of the past, be it the economy, the environment, law and order, or anything else. Yet Advani compares the Sardar Sarovar dam to the Kargil confrontation of 1999 and the Pokran nuclear blasts of 1998. It is as if the government is thrilled about throwing thousands of people out of their homes, just like it proved its nuclear potency to teach Pakistan a lesson. It is nauseating to see the Union home minister rejoice with one state while the people of another despair. That, too, on the birth anniversary of the man who kept India together during the testing days of 1947.

The second statement is from Nalinkant Mohanty, Orissa's minister for works and housing. He proposes a concrete sea wall from Ganjim to Balasore, which could be developed into a highway.

The embankments along the Kosi river in Bihar were to transform the 'backward' area into a modern paradise. They have not only perpetuated the agony of floods, which were earlier seasonal, but also destroyed the wetland economy of the region. The minister obviously doesn't have too many advisers who understand the ecology. He probably spends a lot of time in the company of your average Indian bureaucrat and contractors.

The jubilant Advani, with all the government machinery behind him, cannot ensure that those displaced by the dam are not wronged. The well-meaning Mohanty is incapable of understanding the role of mangrove forests in mitigating damage due to sea storms. Yet they have the gall to dance, to stand up in a meeting on disaster preparedness and make a suggestion they know nothing about.

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