| Medha Patkar blocks the way of deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav in front of his bungalow in Bhopal. (PTI)
Bhopal, May 20: Frail but fiery Medha Patkar and her Narmada troops today took the Madhya Pradesh deputy chief minister by shock, brazenly barging into his home to protest the decision to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar dam.
Subhash Yadav was busy finalising arrangements for Sonia Gandhi’s Dhabra visit when he spotted a figure in a yellow and green striped cotton sari leading about 150 activists into his Professor Colony home. Under his nose, they took over practically every corner --- office, terrace, garden, even the toilets.
Thrown totally off balance and stung by slogans that he was a thief — Gali, gali mein shor hain/ Subhash Yadav chor hai — Subhash lost his head. A sharp exchange of words followed, with Subhash calling Medha badtameez (ill-mannered) and “an agent of America”.
But the show of lungpower was of little avail. Medha settled in the searing heat outside as planned, announcing she was beginning a 24-hour fast (starting 9 am) to protest the dam decision and brushing off pleas that she was trespassing.
At the end of the day, Medha and her team were behind bars, charged with trespassing on government premises and unlawful gathering. But she was unwavering. “Now I am on indefinite fast. Let us see the might of Digvijay Singh in breaking our resolve.”
Patkar and her Narmada Bachao Andolan have long been fighting for the rights of the people who will be displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam. Today’s protest was spurred by the Narmada Control Authority’s decision to raise its height to 100 metres by June.
Subhash, who looks after the Narmada development authority, irrigation and co-operative department, said neither he nor the Digvijay government had anything to do with the decision.
“The decision to allow raising the dam height to 100 metres has been taken by NCA as per the Supreme Court direction after getting clearance from environment, resettlement and rehabilitation sub-groups. The NCA is a body consisting of representatives from the Centre, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and other agencies. Why is she singling me out'” Subhash asked.
Braving the heat, Medha began speaking slowly. “It is all a tissue of lies. Just see the stand taken by the Madhya Pradesh government. They have rejected each and every demand made by NBA that Digvijay Singh had promised to accept. By raising the dam height, 12,000 more hapless persons in Alirajpur, Barwani and other districts would be displaced.”
By noon, Medha was soaked in sweat and barely able to talk. But Subhash was angrier and sending for more policemen to break up the dharna. “This is absolutely unlawful,” he said.
Medha couldn’t care less. “It is a government house and belongs to the people of the state. We have a right to protest.”
In the late afternoon, the district collector, the SP and other state officials suggested a dialogue be held to break the impasse. Medha refused to see Subhash, sending in a group of 20 to take him on.
Once in the presence of Subhash, they struck form. NBA activists Deo Ram, Geeta and Ram Avtaar ripped government schemes and pointed at the rampant corruption in government agencies dealing with relief and rehabilitation.
Subhash tried switching to the local dialect to win them over. No help. Then he looked at his watch, saying he had a flight to catch to Indore. “Let us meet in the third week of June. Organise an open forum and I will come and solve your problems.”
A villager whispered Subhash should directly talk with Medha to resolve the crisis. Subhash agreed but Medha looked the other way. Then she exploded: “What are you going to do' Look at your government’s record, unkept promises.”
Guns blazing, she demanded why the government was mutely witnessing more villages getting submerged. “Your records show villagers have been given compensation. Where is the compensation' There are villages full of life… history that would be completely uprooted by June 2003. What are you going to do'”
Subhash replied there was nothing he could do. “The whole show is media centric. She is just seeking limelight,” he said before rushing off to the airport.
An hour later, Medha was arrested.