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“Yes, we are andolanjeevi,” declared firebrand human rights activist Medha Patkar in a rebuff to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s andolanjeevi taunt at those leading people’s movements in the country. She asserted, “Today’s centralised policies are pushing the marginalised communities further to the margins, squeezing all options for the poor but to take to the streets.”
Medha Patkar, who fought a relentless 36-year battle against big dams represented by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project, on Sunday pointed to the “lopsided distribution” of the dam waters in favour of the cities while several regions of Saurashtra and Kutch still face water crisis.
Patkar was delivering the Chunibhai Vaidya Memorial Lecture on the late land rights activist’s death anniversary on December 19. Chunibhai, more known as Chunikaka, used to be called the new Gandhi of Gujarat for his non-violent struggles. His people’s movements through Gujarat Lok Samiti had forced every large corporate house to withdraw or tamper with their plans.
Citing the instance of the farmers’ agitation, which forced the BJP government to withdraw controversial farm laws, the internationally acclaimed rights activist asserted that “this would not have been possible without a pitched public agitation.”
She asserted, “We have seen some good judges who could withstand political pressures until a point, before succumbing and looking for middle-paths. We have seen it from Ayodhya to Kashmir, and also seen them taking up Rajya Sabha memberships.”
Stressing on the need for public agitations, Patkar said, “We may fight legal battles or may find stray supporters among the bureaucrats and judges, but few changes would come about without people’s movements in the field.”
She said the need of the hour was to fight real political battles from outside party politics by those who become the first victims of so-called welfare policies framed, ironically, in their very name.
Patkar said the time had also come to fight at the level of international funding agencies like those of the UN, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, who “appreciate and understand the concerns of Adivasis, the Dalits, but also fund government agencies implementing policies against them.”
Medha went on, “They allege we receive foreign funding for our agitations while I had returned even my award money, but there is huge money coming into the country to implement the so-called PPP model policies.”
“How much foreign funds came into the PM Cares Fund and for disaster management? Where is it?” she asked. And wondered that the government claimed it had no money for the tribals, the landless, the poor, the farmers, “but it has money for Central Vista, for Sardar Patel Statue; they have Rs 68,000 crore to waive corporate NPAs.”
She recalled how her Narmada Bachao Andolan had forced the World Bank to withdraw funding to the Sardar Sarovar Project. Patkar pointed out, “The World Bank’s internal document on Narmada stated that they would get an entry into the tribal regions!”
Patkar said all micro-level struggles are key to building a macro-level agitation that questions the very paradigm of development at all levels. “Chunikaka said gaon ki zamin, gaon ki hai — but is it happening now? Do the villagers have control over the jal, jungle, zameen being given away to the corporate sector, the mining mafia? Where is the three-tier Panchayati Raj system?” Patkar said, and added there “is no alternative to people’s movements.”