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Mainstream, VOL LV No 40 New Delhi September 23, 2017

The Nero Syndrome

Saturday 23 September 2017, by Sudhir Vombatkere


Prime Minister Modi chose to celebrate his birthday, September 17th, by inaugurating the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). There were several letters written to him, informing him in case he did not know, or reminding him in case he did know and had forgotten, that 40,000 project-affected families (PAFs)—farmers, artisans, fisherfolk, both Adivasis and Dalits of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra—remained to be rehabilitated for their homes, lands and livelihoods lost due to submergence of hundreds of villages and small towns in the last “lift” of the SSP dam structure from 124-m to 136-m.

He was also informed that the rehabilitation of these PAFs, and also PAFs from earlier stages of the SSP dam as it was raised in stages, is incomplete or inadequate or not provided at all, due to huge corruption (reportedly Rs 1500 crores) among government servants, as informally known from the Justice S.S. Jha Commission Report of January 2016.

The Prime Minister was further informed that even though PAFs have been demanding that the Justice S.S. Jha Commission Report be made public, the Report has been calculatedly kept out of the public domain by the Govern-ment of Madhya Pradesh for the past 20 months, so as not to expose the corrupt persons at different levels of government, who have kept the truth of non-rehabilitation of PAFs away from his attention.

The PAFs, like millions of others in our corruption-ridden country of which Narendra Modi took charge from the corrupt UPA governance, were enthused when he gave the slogan “Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga” to our country soon after assuming office. Notwith-standing, the PM was informed that the most immediate issue was not so much about corruption as much as it was (and remains) concerning non-rehabilitation of PAFs and their forcible evacuation.

PM Modi was informed that the State Police were forcibly evacuating the protesting, peacefully-resisting PAFs from the submergence areas to temporary CGI-sheet shelters without basic facilities. Thus, the PAFs have nowhere to go, since the rehabilitation sites are uninhabi-table. Moreover, the PM was informed that the State governments have been filing blatantly wrong or inaccurate action-taken-reports before the Hon’ble Courts regarding having completed rehabilitation, even while the Justice S.S. Jha Commission Report, which would expose the lies and the criminality of non-rehabilitation, remains suppressed.

The hugely negative message conveyed to the nation and the international community by such injustice and violence against peaceful protestors, further made worse by the PM, who has described himself as the nation’s Pradhan Sevak, himself inaugurating the project, that too in celebration of his own birthday, was pointed out. That he would be inaugurating a project, due to which Adivasi and Dalit farmers, artisans and fisherfolk are being forcibly and unjustly evacuated based upon lies told or facts withheld by some corrupt persons, could not have been lost on Modi.

In spite of all these messages, the PM persisted in conducting the ceremonial inauguration of the SSP at the dam site on his sixtysixth birthday. It brings to mind the story of the Roman Emperor Nero, who burnt bodies of slaves to provide light to his noble guests whom he was entertaining after dark. These guests of Nero continued to wine and dine and celebrate in the light of the burning bodies, oblivious that the source of light was the burning bodies of those upon whom they had themselves inflicted injustice and violence. The analogous story of Nero and his guests did not deter Shri Modi from holding his birthday celebration, with prominent political figures as his guests, who were primarily responsible for inflicting injustice and violence upon the PAFs and further suppressing the truth of their complicity in wrong-doing exposed by the Justice S.S. Jha Commission.

Rather, during his inaugural speech, Modi expressed the view that the SSP was one of the projects most affected by delays and hold-ups, and dedicated it to the Indian nation. That the delays and hold-ups were due to righteous and peaceful demonstrations by the PAFs over the decades for justice and their rightful due, was neatly glossed over like a latter-day Nero.

Even today, the PAFs keep standing neck-deep in the rising waters of the dam reservoir, peacefully protesting injustice. Their immediate demands are three, namely, immediately order opening of the sluice gates and immediately cease forcible evacuation of PAFs, immediately make the Justice S.S. Jha Commission Report public, and order a full, transparent investigation into the actual ground realities of non-rehabilitation of PAFs.

To be fair, the problems of the Narmada PAFs and the injustice and police violence against them have been highlighted several times even in UPA times. But PM Modi’s claim of “Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga”, as his personal promise of honesty denied to the people of India during UPA times, rings completely hollow, and shows that the present Modi-led NDA-2 Government is no whit different from the predecessor governments, except, as famously put by Arun Shourie, for the “cow” factor.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired as the Additional DG, Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ AG’s Branch. With over 520 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.

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