{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Demons of Dams

The amount of agitating force is equal to the weight of people displaced - Archimedes revisited

Mr. Modi replied each and every question on the name of some five crore people of Gujrat and in the name of development (using pompous phrases like Rastriya Nirman, Rastriya Pragati and Rastriya Asmita ) and sentiments attached to them. He also linked the people against the dam as against the people of Gujrat (reminiscent of Bush's rhetoric, "with us or against us"). He issued naked threats to those who are against him and he said that he will win because god and 5 crore thirsty Gujaratis are with him. Just to clarify, I don't have any hard feeling or personal grudge against the people of Gujrat and I strongly hope they should never reach the stupidity levels of the people of other states but Mr. Modi is pushing them too hard to cross that legal stupidity limit and with power and god backing him, as he claims, no one can stop his asinine blabbering.

Yesterday, after the SC verdict on the Sardar Sarovar Project came, Mr. Modi didn't loose a minute to sip the juice of victory and to give a full throated speech that seriously put in doubt the sincerity of his 51 hr fast. All news channels went crazy to toggle between reports from Gujarat where Mr. Modi was going to end his fast and Jantar Mantar where Medha Patkar was about to call off her 20 days hunger strike, till they split the screen to show the enemies side by side, the pompous big saffron colored stage of Modi and the clapping and singing clan at Jantar Mantar.

On more interesting thing going on TV are the debates on the celebrity associations on such high-octane socio-political issues. The biggest name, being Aamir Khan, who has earlier came with his Rang de Basanti crew to hear the grievances of the effected and promptly held a press conference to tell the world about it. Yesterday and the day before, news channels were airing Aamir's appeal to the RDB-infected youth of India like Coca cola commercials. In one such debate, Nalini Singh (from the good ol' doordarshan days) questioned the credibility of a celebrity, who endorses package tours, Swiss watches and credit cards on one day and switches to issues like low water table or global warming the other day, without required knowledge and hence a commitment to those issues on the part of the celebrity, her argument infuriated Mr. Rahul Bose, also on the panel of discussion, who claimed that he can answer the questionnaire from NBA at any moment and pass the test with distinction. Later I found out the real reason for his sweet anger, the watch brand he recently endorsed.

Anyway, the point was whether these celebrities bring such issues to notice - may be yes - but what good it does to the movement. Irrespective of my low respect for Mr. Khan and his troupe, his knowledge on the issue seemed very shallow (as a matter of fact, Mr. Bose was very well informed on the issue and had a better stand than Mr. Khan, may be because he has lesser scripts to read and lesser public to please). And Dare-I-say that Mr Khan seemed a counterpart of Modi, speaking to stir the emotions with his appeal to youth (why he only appealed the youth might be addressed in a separate post). The day before yesterday, he was seen on TV saying that the displaced should be compensated and the height of the dam should not be increased and now he seems quite happy and all with the SC verdict (may be his lawyer has given him some dose from the chapter called 'Contempt of Court'), which he called victory of humanity and thinks the rehab can be done in next three months (as a comic book hero, he even assured the masses that he will be back after 3 months and will see that progress has been made or not, or otherwise he will again appeal to the youth), such optimism is kiddish, given that fact that nothing is done in last 20 years.

When I was watching all this, my heart sank with a thought that it might strike to Aamir's creative mind to make a film on the plight of the displaced, which will eventually emotionalize, regionalize and trivialize the issue and given his commitment to the commercial well-being of the film, its happy ending - the victory of the poor souls - might paint a picture that the poor have, in reality, won the battle and all those fans who are thinking about the issue (in purely emotional terms) because the smart and the successful Aamir is listening to the poorest of the people with a serious face, will close the book with a satisfactory smile that the justice is done. It should not be story like this - he came, he hijacked, all died in peace.

Mr. Modi , again shamelessly, came out against Aamir Khan saying that where was he when Kashmiri Pundits were displaced (seems that Mr. Modi is the happiest of the lot that Kashmiri pundits were displaced, otherwise where else he can get other such common reason to sweep every other issue) and advised him to stick to his song and dance routine, and also issued threats to him in public (his party workers took the hint and did what they are best at). Mr. Modi had also said that the voice of the common man who is getting benefited from the project is shadowed by the English speaking celebrities. He must remember himself giving speeches in lyrical English to woo the Gujrati NRI community and the multinational in his Vibrant Gujrat campaign. His loathe for English and his desperate effort to strike an emotional balance between the crowd pulling swadeshi-rant and multinational wet dreams, looks partially like a kiddo who has not read his test book on American policies and politics, rebuking the protest against Bush's visit to India, and suggesting this and partially as a house wife who can not look as beautiful as a popular actress despite her several effots, ends up calling her a whore.

The only voice among all the chaos, which has its logic intact, the consistency and the preciseness that addresses the issue with sincerity and urgency is that of Arundhati Roy. Listening to the SC verdict, she said she is not feeling victorious, she said she is rather feeling vindicated that what has been said by NBA for years is put on papers by the SC, she told that she is not optimistic of the judgment because it seems just another way to delay the real judgment, she said the 5 crore people of Gujrat that Mr. Modi talk about with great emotions will not get much out of the project because only 9-10% water is given to Kutch and Saurashtra, and that too will go to big players, she said the celebrities are welcome like any other common man to join the movement but they need to gain knowledge and thus commitment to the cause with time (Mr. Khan should take it as an advice and start his homework), she told to look at the other face of development, she ridiculed Mr. Modi in most beautifully appropriate words and called his hunger strike a 'Crash diet'.

This doesn't merely seem to be a tale of fasts and false propagandas, this shows how emotional and regional sentiments and prejudices rule over anything else, this shows how it is bad to be against government and the powerful especially when you are poor, this explains how one can be termed anti development activist if he speaks for those displaced by a huge developmental scheme, this shows that even 20 years is an inadequate time to bring something committed on papers to ground, this might explain who are maoists and where they come from, from where they are displaced and where they will go now.


Indrajith said...


I strongly feel that you have taken a side, in case of this issue. I can hear the "secular" Anurag when it comes to bashing Modi. There are few questions left untouched by you.

1. Why we need to increase the hight of the dam?
2. What sort of rehab is being asked for and what has been provided?
3. What gives Arundati Roy an edge over the other celebs? Just because she has penned some books and has an "intelligent" image?
4. What Medha wanted was to stop raising the dam height but what SC has said is to continue with the dam height raising. So is it a failure for her & NBA?
5. Amir khan is not still out of RDB hang over is the over all feel you gave. Why Amir has to do this? Is he going to gain anything out of supporting this cause?

If you ask me, I would say that the dam height has to be increased at any cost and you know, everything in this world is buit not without tears and blood.

anurag said...


I will reply to your comment in detail a little later.

Thanks for the comment, it raised some good questions.


anurag said...

I can hear the "secular" Anurag when it comes to bashing Modi.

I think secular usually comes when we talk about religion etc, I haven't used it deliberately, just to show Mr Modi is an all rounder in stupidity. He is already hero of other religious crimes.

1. Why we need to increase the hight of the dam?

I think your question is why the increase it height of the dam is proposed. It is proposed so because in theory higher the dam, more water in can store, so more power it can generate and more area it can irrigate and things like that. The missing link is the more people it will displace due to submergence and given the current state where already displaced people are not rehabilitated, increasing the height is a gross mistake. Also there is a very strong theory again the big dams on environmental basis.

2. What sort of rehab is being asked for and what has been provided?
Read this: http://www.hindu.com/2006/04/17/stories/2006041705231100.htm {GoM's confidential report}

3. What gives Arundati Roy an edge over the other celebs? Just because she has penned some books and has an "intelligent" image?
She has been to the sites, seen the disaster, talked to people, wrote about it, she has outgrown her Booker image. Please read this(http://www.narmada.org/gcg/gcg.html) to know her candid views.

4. What Medha wanted was to stop raising the dam height but what SC has said is to continue with the dam height raising. So is it a failure for her & NBA?
The Supreme Court ruled that work on raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam would be stopped if states involved in the project do not rehabilitate displaced people.But it didn't order work to be stopped and will hear the matter again in a week. So it not a success but is not a total failure too.

5. Amir khan is not still out of RDB hang over is the over all feel you gave. Why Amir has to do this? Is he going to gain anything out of supporting this cause?
The question is not whether Aamir is gaining something from this or not, but the main point is he should be well informed for the cause which he should take, coming like a Indian Hero and thinking things will sort out by an appeal to youth is not going to work. I am fine about his joining the cause but I am against his hijacking it given the meager information and vision he has shown on the subject. The best thing for him to gain more data and information about the cause for which he feels so strongly
Is he going to gain anything out of supporting this cause?
Yes, may be more popularity and a messiah status of social causes, who know what's on his mind, be a skeptic, Indrajith, in such matters.

If you ask me, I would say that the dam height has to be increased at any cost and you know, everything in this world is buit not without tears and blood.

This blood and tear theory is used by so many politicians but i think it holds true when the beneficiary is the person whose tear and blood are shed, also I am not sure it will work even in those cases.
One way to see pain and tear theory is this. The displaced people can have pain and tear provided they get something out of it. Now you have given them pain and tears, taken their land and food, they are not going to get the water too because they don't have even the land to stay, they will move to outskirts of some big cities in search of menial works, if they don't get anything then out of survival necessity, they might even commit crimes or may resort to violence, you jail them or kill them or throw them out of society. They get pure pain and pure tears for the water they will never drink.
The other is since tear and blood is our so-called tradition of development and the foundation of buildings, we should continue to do so. Now I can understand your point. When we talk about the tear and blood of others, we tend to disassociate pain and plight from them !

Alok said...

a few general points...

it is sometimes confusing to talk of state/country in abstraction, as in "development of the country" or the "pride of the country" because it makes you forget that country is not an abstract idea but actually stands for the people. so when we ask about development we have to ask who is benefitting and who is paying the cost. in this case the people paying the cost are politically weak and marginalised.

also, the "tear and blood" theory smacks of a fascist rhetoric, a manipulative technique to mobilise masses to support a cause blindly. I won't even say how dangerous and misguided this idea is.

and finally I actually liked aamir khan's taking stand on the issue. he is one of the least shallow people we have in bollywood today. he even said he would look into the allegations of coke destryoing the water table. and it was also heartening to see that he was the only one to speak against modi. even the congress was silent about the whole thing.

Alok said...

and did you see arundhati roy saying "fuck off" on ndtv?

she said that it was the message the supreme court wanted to give to the poor of india :))

Alok said...

you may want to compare aamir with our beloved shahrukh who had this to say on what an "empowered india" means to him...

I empower people with smiles. As long as I can provide two hours of complete fun, I’m happy. Maybe I only reach inside, make you mushy or soft on emotion but I promise to make it so basic that it becomes the most prominent. I love to be sweetly mushy and want all my audience to smile in relief, at inane stuff or smile. If for two hours, I can make them forget that they had to wade for two hours to reach home during the Mumbai floods, I’m happy. I’ve done my job of empowering them to smile.

there are some other gems too. i don't know whether I should laugh or cry


km said...

Arundhati said "fuck off" on *live tv*? Wish there were more public figures like her in India.

Anurag, whether or not Aamir is out of his RDB hangover (ugh, how could *such* a bad film give him a hangover?), at least he has the balls to take a stand.

Sure, he could milk this for future "patriotic" film projects, but maybe he really does care. My antennae are always on high for PR bullshit, but I think he is the real deal.

That said, does anyone have good web links to a simple, clear explanation of why this dam is such a bad idea? (preferably a neutral, third-party analysis...)

anurag said...

Ya, she said that, NDTV beeped it, in spite of that, it was a glorious moment in Indian television history :)

Indrajith said...

I learnt that the present dam has design flaws. They are trying to overcome that too along with increasing the height.

I don't think Amir or Arundathi deserves the media publicity they are given for their support on this issue. That too Amir just joined Medha 2 days back and hitting headlines shows that where indian media is going towards. And NDTV telecasting a 1 Hour debate on what Amir & Arundathi means to NBA is still worse. Medha & NBA are now pushed behind the larger than life images of Amir & Arundathi.

Modi to me has taken a strong stand on whatever is good for his state. And made some political milage out of it too. His fasting was totally unwarrented. But you can expect indian politician's to be like that. Even "non-indian" polititians are making big dramas on their own problems. I stand with Modi.

Another perspective should be that if someone who has an aura among people being the wife and son of a Ex-Prime Minister , without any experience or ground reality of the Indians or Indian way of life can hijack a 150 year old party for no reasons but their own greed and strive of power, what Amir has done is perfectly fine. I said it is P-E-R-F-E-C-T.

Sujai Karampuri said...

I have a different take on Narmada Issue. I believe in construction of dams, just the way I believe in better roads, better sanitary conditions, more hospitals and better schooling facilities. Stopping the construction of the dam will not serve the good of the people. I have my opinions posted in two different blogs at my site.



Anonymous said...

Although my comments are coming a little too late. But, I think I should still go ahead and let it known.
This seems to be a good article. However, I am going to critique not the subject but the writer here and that's you :)

You have tried to balance your opinion on the Narmada issue, unfortunately tough by resorting to a very common method of critisizing the opinions of the famous. If you drool a little bit, you will find this method widely used by erstwhile communist, who had a single minded goal of getting rid of all those who can influence masses with fame and money. The philosophy was scandalous in the sense that it wanted to eliminate authoritarian society and yet wanted to acquire the same privileges for itself. Believe me or not, your article spitts that feeling all over and over, perhaps inadvertantly. I would request you to be more neutral in your opinion. At best you are smelling leftist liberal :)

There are two sides to Narmada issue. One is of the displaced society and other side is development. Much to your distase, Modi, however wrongly he might have put it, atleast have touched upon the later side. As far as the scientific angle of not increasing the dam height is concerned, we all have seen the same argument for the Koyna Dam near Navi Mumbai and yet it has worked wonders. There's no denying that earthquake probability has increased, but I guess nothing comes cheap. (Now you can jump on me saying that this is fascist :-)

In your criticism of Amir Khan, you have resorted to the argument that he had little knowledge of the issue and he was more than over-optimistically fantasizing (like how he did in RDB). But, look at it this way. Amir Khan has ability to influence opinions and in a society that we are into nowadays, its healthy to have an opinion. Good or Bad is not an issue, because our nation's foundation philosophy i.e. democracy itself says that. Democracy is not about good or bad, but about the desire/will to put forth an opinion. It respects the majority opinion. The important role Amir is playing here is that of a catalyst.

I would support both Modi and Amir Khan for their actions of atleast opinionating on the subject and would urge you to clearly opinionate as well. There are no third opinions here, the issue is as clear as it can get. Otherwise we all know how things are going on in our parliament, as you know a bill for introducing reservations simply passes without a minute of healthy debate over it. Its a shame. We need opinions. We need sides be taken. We need somebody to put forward a popular theory. I know I cann't, because although I have the confidence in myself, people around me have no faith in me. That's the reason we need leaders and above all we need healthy debates among all of us.

-- Rushikesh

anurag said...

Hi Sujai,

Thanks for visiting. I read your posts but I will like to disagree to you. I am trying to clarify some of the points in the comment below.


anurag said...

Thanks a lot for your candid opinions. I may sound leftist or communist or anti-development-junkie, but that is fine. The point you wrote is important, and has been said in several different ways in several forums.

One part of your point is that people like me (I will use it loosely) are hardcoded with no opinion of their own and they detest anything which can bring apparent happiness to people and it doing so take the center stage (I think I have reworded it to my convenience but I think content remains the same). I believe that I am not hard coded, because I have read appox. 2 pro-dam articles for any anti-dam article, Actually I started with a pro-dam/pro-development thing ( Actually similar concerns are raised near my hometown for the Tehri Project and my usual take at that time was that people do all this anti-dam propaganda to get good money and stuff from govt. and env. is not to cared about and it balances it self and displaced people are getting lands so why they are cribbing). The anti-dam thing has come after some thought, but I may not be successfully able to mold the ideas of the famous to my dialect. Now to begin, the development project benefit some, and harm some. To look it more clearly, we should see whom they are benefiting and whom they are harming, are they the same person. Till now there is no question of money or power. Even to rob one poor and give to the other poor doesn't sound right. And as you know that when it comes to a priced possession like water, big players come into picture and that brings money too into picture. so the equation as always boils down to robbing poor and giving rich ( ya, it sounds communist). In this way small projects, where there can not be big players seem feasible.

One more question that is raised and raised about this goes as follows - the water and electricity you are using comes from those dams and if dams are not there cities will go dark. It is a emotionally powerful argument since it directly effects almost all of us, but we usually like to sugarcoat this (there may be exceptions) to a cry for development and in extreme cases, to nationalism. and all this development benefit whom... no points for guessing. My way of thinking was little stupid, I questioned why everyone near me is so pro-development and that made be suspicious of their (including mine) intentions.

The second point hidden in you opinion is about the role of organization such as NBA that behave as I do. They take a center stage and become important than the voice of the people they are representing. I , myself , am not great supporter of groups but I feels at time you need them to take your voice forward. I have even heard that one of the earlier petition of NBA activists was rejected because it was not written in English. I think we have earlier also touched on the issues of pros and cons, and people like me see only cons of the thing. I think we should do that more. Happiness of the incoming rain should not let you forget that it causes floods too. As far as opinion is concerned, I am anti-dam as of now and reading more about the benefits of dams. Also, I can not criticize the opinions of Mr. Modi, he has no opinions, no logic, just jingoistic speeches.

There are some strong environmental stand against big dams. Read this (http://www.manipuronline.com/Features/December2003/dam27_2.htm). Its text book article which enumerates the merits and demerits of the dams. I was criticizing Mr. Khan on the same basis as you were criticizing me, I thought he is trying to hijack the ship without knowing about the navigation.

I agree when you say we should express opinions, lets end this with what Voltaire said --I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Indrajith said...

Rushi, you hit the nail on its head.

The thing to be critisized is the role of the media and authors like you who get information from various sources and form an opinion based on what you have collected so far. There is no opinion or information that we are adding to it but just get ourself more biased based on the articles we read. I suggest that we need to look in to the ground reality ourselves and express our honest opinion. There should not be a old answer from old books to a new question.

I suggest you to get on grounds yourself and enlighten us.

confused said...


If Shahrukh is happy doing that, what exactly is your problem? No, I am not fan of him, I avoid seeing his movies because they are too senti mushy for me, but at least he is honest about how he is.

It would be great if you could tell us how Aamir is a cerebral actor, I clearly remember him saying he does not know much about the issue, and yet he takes a stand?