35 years journey of Narmada Bachao Andolan : Dr Sunilam

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35 years journey of Narmada Bachao Andolan, An unique movement under remarkable leadership.

Narmada Bachao Andolan has aged to 35 years now ,yet the movement carries the valour, zeal, determination and anguish of those days intact. Third generation leadership has take over the inheritance. This movement has been a source of inspiration for thousands of people’s movements across the country which gave birth to many sincere workers of people’s movement.


Medha Patkar, who dedicated her precious 35 years behind the sustained struggle, has now become an icon not only in India, but in the entire world. She is being held in high esteem across political parties, castes, languages, religion, region, gender. Even the administrators, Police officers, MLAs and MPs of different parties, Ministers, Chief Ministers also pay a deep respect for her. Leaders with skill of organizing struggles, doing constructive work and working with creative ideas on ideological front together are very rare. Medhaji is among such rare personalities who continued challenging various governments on street even amidst Corona period against the injustice, exploitation, corruption and discrimination against migrant laborers. Several times I requested her to be cautious about health she always replied that your concern should be for the country, not for any individual.

It is quite justified to evaluate any movement on completion of its 35 years. It should begin with the significant question that can a personality with rare qualities build up and sustain any movement for 35 years? I think leader can only pull it but it’s very difficult to keep the organization vibrant and lively that too confronting with new issues.

It is generally said about movements that they do not sustain long whether they are successful or unsuccessful. The movements sustain for few years only. And in case of issue based movement, it is still shorter.

People thought that movement was aimed to resist the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam and for the proper rehabilitation of the displaced people. As Dam was constructed and though proper rehabilitation was not done, it was expected that the movement will be over. But it didn’t happen so. This is the uniqueness of Narmada Bachao Andolan. The people observing the movement from far get an impression that the movement is surrounding Medha Patkar only.


But that is not the reality. The decisions regarding the movement is taken by large number of volunteers actively working in even smallest villages along with the common people of those villages. The decisions so taken by the villagers of Narmada catchment areas are ratified in Open Session of volunteers. And Medhaji announced those decisions.

But in these 35 years ,not a single time one would have observed any press note issued in the name of Medha Patkar ji. The press notes contain the names of fore running organizers of the movement with Medhaji’s name at last. Medhaji is neither Convenor nor President of Narmada Bachao Andolan. No one is office bearer of the Organization . In true sense, this is the real beauty of this movement that its a People’s movement.The dedicated volunteers who facing police atrocities, fabricated cases, continued wholeheartedly to take the movement to this extent are the real life of this movement.

The uniqueness of the movement also lies in the fact that all its volunteers are ideologically equipped. They are articulate about alternate policy of development and ready to give their self and time anytime for the movement. Those who have gone to the valley to participate in a movement must have observed that their food was supplied from volunteers’ houses only. And they were hosted at volunteers’ houses only.

The number of books written on Narmada Bachao Andolan, and the number of films made on it along with good number of cases in High Courts and Supreme Court has far exceeded any other movement in the country. Amidst the movement, Medhaji has received many world renowned awards also. But she has never been introduced as so and so award winner Medha Patkar. It means her identity is not dependent on any awards. The movement also impressed well known social worker like Baba Amte and he led his last part of life at Narmada bank only.

Well known Arundhati Roy was charged with Contempt of Court when she was protesting in front of The Supreme Court against one of its verdict. Similar charges are framed on Prashant Bhushan today. Eminent advocates like Prashant Bhushan, late Sh. Rajendra Sachar who was former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Sanjay Parikh, Rajiv Dhavan, etc. are appearing for Narmada Bachao Andolan continuously since last 35 years. Since last few years, Medhaji herself appears in High Court and Supreme Court on behalf of Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Narmada Bachao Andolan is such a movement under influence of which various High Courts and Supreme Court have given verdict in favour of crores of displaced people. Whether it is land for land or 60 lakh rupees compensation for a family, Narmada Bachao Andolan has played a key role in getting rid of Land Acquisition Act of British time.
Inspired by Narmada Bachao Andolan, ‘Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao’ movement became successful in Mumbai due to which lakhs of poor people’s houses could be saved and lakhs of poor people could settle in Mumbai with there own houses.The leader of movement, Medhaji is popular in the entire country, but compared to Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where she spends most the most .

I observed her to be more popular in Kerala state. In the course of this movement, Medhaji felt the necessity of co-ordination of various people’s movement and 30 years ago National Alliance for People’s movement was formed under the guidance of eminent Socialist, Gandhain and Sarvoday personalities.


Today more than 350 people’s movements are allied with it. Narmada Bachao Andolan has played important role in formation of BhumiAdhikar Andolan.(Land Rights Movement) and All India Kisan Struggle Co-ordination Committee(AIKSCC ). It is not that there was no opposition to Narmada Bachao Movement. Gujarat Government has prohibited her entry since many decades. It is another thing that Congress party leaders of Gujarat are repenting their mistake because Claims made by Modi didn’t materialise .

Medha Patkar is the declared enemy of Narendra Modi even when he was the CM of Gujarat and even now when he is the PM of India. False cases of taking fund from foreign countries were fabricated against her; she was assaulted in Ahmedabad and other places.But she always came clean of all the allegations against her. Modi became successful in increasing the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam after becoming the Prime Minister. But he couldn’t succeed to submerge identified 250 villages.Even after 35 years, the movement continues in full fledged manner in the valley.

Today on the occasion of completion of 35 years, more than 500 youths publically took the pledge to educate the children of those villages who are not able to study as the schools are closed in Corona times . More than 5000 such students have passed out from the Jiwan Shalas ( voluntary schools )of the movement and have today become the strong support base of the movement. The credit of taking Narmada Bachao movement to this level goes to those lakhs of supporters of the movement who have formed Supporter groups countrywide and supported the movement whenever required.
Actually moment started much earlier led by different individuals and groups in Narmada Valley.
I am associated with the movement since last 25 years. Whenever I go to the valley for the programmes of movement, I register my two objections. First objection is about one slogan “Rajneeti Dhokha Hai, Dhakka Maaro Mauka Hai”. I say it is the Politics that determines everything. It was political decision to construct dam. Politics determine the course of development.
My second principled objection is about indefinite hunger strike by Medha Patkar. I have no objection with limited fast or relay fast. These days my objection is not regarding the movement but the lack of necessary care by Medhaji in this Corona Pandemic situation. In spite of all my objections, I believe that Medha Patker and the movement has provided contributed a lot through which many lessons can be learnt. So whenever I get chance i appeal everybody to read and watch about Narmada Andolan and Visit Narmda Valley atleast once.It may change your perspective towards development and life.


The above article is writer’s personal views .

(Dr Sunilam is Ex MLA and Working President of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti )

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