By the Special Correspondent, UNI
In a move that has taken everyone by surprise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered the dismantling of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the river Narmada in his home state, Gujarat. He announced this today in a crowded press conference. In what was almost as surprising, he patiently fielded a barrage of questions hurled at him by mediapersons, even giving long and detailed explanations.
The first obvious question all the journalists had was, what prompted this action, when in fact he had been the project’s strongest proponent since he was Gujarat’s Chief Minister and had even inaugurated it recently on his own birthday? Why the change of heart?
With typical wit, the PM said it was not a change of heart, as much as a bypass! He revealed that he had a sort of revelation while recently at the World Economic Summit. After he gave the opening speech (and, he added, after the standing ovation had died down), he was approached by several world leaders. They politedly pointed to him the contradiction between what he said about climate change in his speech, and his actions back home to promote big dams, coal and nuclear power. That night he could not sleep, he said. After returning to India, he immediately sought an audience from his favourite astrologer, as also from Sadhguru, Baba Ramdev, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
They all told him the importance of letting rivers run free, for who would chain up their mother in a wall of concrete? The PM even revealed to the press something that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar reportedly whispered to him: following his grand event on the Yamuna last year, he had been struck with remorse at the devastation it had caused the holy river, and advised Mr. Modi to similarly repent for defiling Ma Narmade. The Sadhguru is believed to have said that he now realized it was not enough to plant millions of trees along river banks, for what use is this if the river was itself no longer flowing? Baba Ramdev pledged not to set up any Patanjali factories along rivers if the PM Modi pledged to save the Narmada. And the personal astrologer revealed something he’d been scared to tell the PM all this time, that the planets and stars were all wrongly aligned at the time of the Project’s inauguration.
One journalist asked, what of all the investment that has already been made in the Sardar Sarovar? The PM said, if you buy the wrong medicine, will you still swallow it simply because you’ve spent money on it? Anyway, he has asked his officials to work out if a part of the dam wall could be left intact (without impeding the water flow), to be turned into a Monument of Developmental Folly for posterity to learn from. This would be dedicated to all the thousands of families unjustly displaced by the Project. So the investment was not all wasted.
And the farmers in Gujarat who had anxiously been awaiting the Narmada water … would this action not affect the BJP’s vote base, which was already on the wane, one brave reporter dared to ask? The PM looked slightly taken aback at this, but recovered quickly and said he would direct central and state budgets to go into widespread decentralized water harvesting. He said he had been reliably told that several successful initiatives of this kind already existed in Gujarat and other states with dry regions. He was considering a scheme on this, with the name JALPAAN (Joint Action on Lakes, Ponds, Aquifers and Nadis). He has also asked to look into the legitimate demand of Dalits for land and economic opportunity, saying he realized how his ‘Gujarat model’ had left them and other poor far behind.
This reporter asked if he would now also have second thoughts about the River Inter-linking project? This evoked a smile from PM Modi, quipping “I’m told one heart bypass at a time is enough, let us wait awhile for the next one”. Immediately after, though, he revealed other major initiatives in the offing. One was the replacement of the ‘Make in India’ campaign by ‘We Already Make in India’; he said in his recent trip to Europe he had walked into a Fair Trade shop and seen the most wonderful handmade clothes, footwear, soaps, and much else, and had been stunned to find they were ‘Made in India’. By Indians, he quickly added. Another, he said, was to convert the huge Rs. 80,000 crore chemical fertilizer subsidy towards supporting organic farming; this too was apparently prompted by his discovery of how popular organic food was in the West. And a third was to promote cycling; he himself would cycle to work once a week to demonstrate how much fun it was. Was this also something he learnt in his visit to Europe? Well, yes, “I noticed how suited-booted businessmen were cycling around and I said, if them, why not us?” And he added, making the assembled journalists burst into laughter, “the trip was like a cyclogical journey for me!”.
The same brave journalist who had asked about election prospects (it later turned out he was a freelancer, so did not have to answer to a corporate boss), ventured to ask why the PM was learning all this from the West, did we not have our own wisdom to learn from? This evoked a gentle smile from the PM: “Sir, do you not know that long time back the West learnt all this from us? We have simply forgotten some of this, I’m merely bringing it back.” Then he added another observation which indicated that the heart bypass had been very successful!: “In any case, Bhaiyon, India is made up of so many peoples and cultures from around the world, who have come at various points of time, so what is Indian and what is foreign? We are all one humanity…”
Immediately after the press conference, this reporter called up various opposition party spokespersons to get their reactions. They all had a similar response: some said that the thing sounded very fishy, others said it seemed like an election gimmick, one quipped “I did not know he had a heart in that chhappan inch chest at all!”. Reporters who called up NGOs to ask for their response, were met with a stunned silence. The Chair of Greenpeace India was the only one who agreed to speak to this reporter, and was rather candid: “more than any action of the Ministry of Home Affairs trying to shut us and other ‘troublesome’ NGOs down, the PM’s action has threatened us. If he has some more such bypasses, we will be left with no raison d’etre, we may as well pack up and go live as hermits along the soon-to-be-freed rivers of the nation.”
The PMO has given the following link for further news on the PM’s new initiatives: www.pmoindia.PMBypass.org(1.4.2018, Unique News of India)