Elsewhere in the country, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) marked the PM’s birthday with cleanliness drives. In a blog, BJP chief Amit Shah equated Modi’s contributions with those of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and B R Ambedkar. He said Modi had ushered in India’s economic integration by implementing the goods and service tax (GST) and ensuring economic empowerment of the poor by introducing the Jan Dhan Yojana. He said Patel had achieved the country’s political unification and Ambedkar its social unification.
Shah said service or “sewa” was the best way to celebrate the birthday of “pradhan sewak” Modi. Consistent with the BJP’s narrative of garib kalyan, Shah said Modi’s heart “beats for the poor, downtrodden, marginalised and the farmers of India”.
Addressing a public rally in Dabhoi in Vadodara district, 55 km from the dam site, the PM listed the benefits of the project. He said Narmada waters would now reach parched areas in Kachchh. The PM said the project faced several hurdles, including the World Bank withdrawing funding, but this couldn’t stop it from being completed. He said the dam was an engineering marvel that many had conspired to stop.
“You know me, I can’t do small things. I don’t think small, don’t do small things. With 1.25 billion people with me, I can’t dream small,” he said. “The western part of India lacks adequate water supply, while in the eastern part there is shortage of electricity and gas supply. We are working to overcome these shortages so that both parts of India develop and India scales new heights of development.”
The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), a broad platform of organisations involved in peoples’ movements, said the future of 40,000 displaced families has been sacrificed. “These families have not been provided rehabilitation.
The dam has been dedicated with elections in Gujarat in mind,” former Member of Parliament (MP) Hannan Mollah said.
The PM said waters from the dam can now reach the India-Pakistan border to benefit the Border Security Force soldiers, and also benefit neighbouring states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Rajasthan is due for Assembly polls in end-2018.
However, the Narmada Bachao Andolan
and other groups disputed some of Modi’s claims. They pointed out that 50 per cent of the canal work remained incomplete. “Villages in Kutch would never get Narmada waters, which is being diverted for the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor,” Madhuresh of National Alliance for Peoples’ Movements said. The PM paid tributes to Patel and Ambedkar, he said the dam would have been built earlier if the two had lived longer. He said the foundation stone was laid 56 years back. “Today, the soul of Sardar Patel must be jubilant, blessing us all. He had envisioned the dam 75 years ago, even before independence. Imagine the great vision of the man who could dream so big for the sake of farmers,” he said.
“I have knowledge (‘kacha chittha’) of everyone who tried to stall this project, but I will not name them as I do not want to go on that route,” Modi said. “Sardar Sarovar
will become a symbol of India’s new and emerging power and propel growth in the region ... the project is an engineering miracle.”
With the Gujarat Assembly polls due in December, the BJP has fixed a target of 150-plus seats in the 182-member Assembly. Last week, the PM and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe had laid the foundation stone for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed rail project. Earlier this month, President Ram Nath Kovind had visited Gujarat to inaugurate projects.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is also set to start his election campaign once he returns from his foreign visit. The BJP finds itself emboldened after Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela, an influential leader of the Rajput community, quit the party.
President Kovind had visited Gujarat in the run-up to the presidential election. Kovind hails from the Koli community of Uttar Pradesh, which is identified as a Dalit community in his home state but identified as an OBC community in Gujarat. The Koli community comprises nearly a sixth of Gujarat’s population. With sections of the Patels, under their leader Hardik Patel, having turned against the party, the BJP is trying put stitch together a caste combination to ensure victory.