The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shabana salute to Digvijay

Bhopal, July 11: Shabana Azmi today sought to champion the cause of Sardar Sarovar dam oustees, but unlike Narmada Bachao Andolan activists Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, she exhibited great faith in Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh to deliver justice.

Addressing a news conference after visiting the affected region, Shabana demanded a fresh survey in the area. “We found Digvijay extremely considerate and alive to the problems being faced by Narmada oustees. I think he is sincere about resolving it,” said the Rajya Sabha MP.

She was accompanied by former Planning Commission member L.C. Jain and Swami Agnivesh. They said their two-and-a-half-day stay at Pipri, Bhavaria, Pichodi and Chikhalda has made them realise that the displaced persons need “more and urgent” relief and rehabilitation.

The Digvijay regime and the NBA are at loggerheads over almost all aspects of relief and rehabilitation, including the number of affected families. Distancing herself from Patkar’s scant hope for justice from the Digvijay regime, Shabana said she would form an opinion only after being proved “otherwise”.

Digvijay today met Shabana, Jain and Agnivesh. The chief minister shared their perception that displaced persons need help and said he would convene a meeting on July 26 where Patkar and other NBA activists would be invited.

Jain said he has suggested to Digvijay that gram sabhas be entrusted with the task of identifying affected families. He said the chief minister’s response was “positive”.

Shabana asserted that she should not be clubbed with Patkar and Roy as she was merely acting as a concerned citizen in drawing the state government’s attention towards the plight of Narmada oustees. “Our role is like that of midwives and not mothers,” she said.

NBA activists were cool to Shabana’s presence and said her celebrity status would bring little cheer to the displaced persons.

“The monsoons have already set in. The authorities are going ahead with their plans to raise dam heights and more and more areas are going to submerge. Where is the time for meetings and discussions' In any case, such promises are seldom fulfilled,” an NBA activist said.

Others alleged that Shabana’s tenure in the Rajya Sabha was ending next month and the actress was trying to steal some limelight to strengthen her case for a second term. Shabana was nominated by the President when I.K. Gujral was Prime Minister, and given her antipathy for the BJP and its allies, her prospects of a second term are dim.

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