June 01, 2006

Make us proud

Wrote this for the oped page of the Hindustan Times today (June 1 2006). Comments welcome.


Sometimes, no often, the most revealing things come from the most unexpected quarters.

Here's the situation: The film "Fanaa" won't be screened in Gujarat. Theatre owners anticipated trouble if they did show it, so they've decided not to. The film, of course, stars Aamir Khan. Aamir Khan, of course, famously spoke up during recent protests over the dam on the Narmada.

The BJP's Yuva Morcha in Gujarat has a leader called Amit Thakker. This man, presumably a young man, spoke to "Hindustan Times" (May 24) about the release -- or the non-release -- of the film in Gujarat. "We have not issued any threats," he said. "We have only requested theatre owners not to screen 'Fanaa' in the interest of Gujarat."

How it might be "in the interest" of an entire state not to see one more Bollywood film would be good to learn. But my guess is, we won't. Thakker just wants us to assume it.

Nevertheless, more interesting by far is something else Thakker also told the press. "Gujarat," he said, "is not to blame for non-completion of rehabilitation of the affected people."

You see: the young man actually admits that "rehabilitation of the affected people" is incomplete. And of course Gujarat is not to blame: for the very simple reason that the great majority of affected people are in not in Gujarat (nor even, for that matter, in Maharashtra), but in MP.

For just one indication of this, consider these figures taken from the minutes of the 52nd meeting of the R&R sub-group of the Narmada Control Authority, held on February 8 2002. These are all numbers for Project Affected Families (PAFs) in MP.

  • At a dam height of 95 metres: 5397 total (of 9864 in three states), 1116 to be resettled
  • 100 m: 7913 total (of 12,444), 2749 to be resettled
  • 110 m: 12,681 total (of 18,240), 6856 to be resettled
  • 138.68 m (full height): 33,014 total (of 40,963), 24,568 to be resettled.

    (That is, at the current height of the dam, some 70 per cent of the total PAFs are from MP. At the full height, that rises to over 80 per cent).

    What these numbers show is clear: the state of R&R in MP, even four years ago, was a mess. It has been a mess for a long time. Which is just the point of the recent protests over the dam, that Aamir Khan expressed support for. He too was concerned -- as I assume Thakker is -- that rehabilitation is incomplete.

    So why the anger against Aamir Khan?

    Why would one of the BJP's senior-most leaders, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, tell reporters: "We can end this row if he (Aamir Khan) apologises to the people of Gujarat"? What must Khan apologise for?

    But of course, demanding apologies is easy. If "people of Gujarat" like Amit Thakker want this dam built, they might want to ask: who, after all, is responsible for the hurdles in the path to completion?

  • Those who refuse to comply with the project's own stated plans, with the directives of the Supreme Court of this land, to complete R&R at least side-by-side with dam construction?

  • Or those, like Aamir Khan, who say simply, "rehabilitate those people"? Who draw our attention to this refusal to comply?

    Which of these deserves the anger of the "people of Gujarat"?

    Should the "people of Gujarat", whom Malhotra and Thakker seem willing to speak for, begin asking their own leaders for some answers? After all, if rehabilitation is done with a degree of dispatch and sincerity, that dam will be ready that much sooner. The point is precisely that it has not been done. Should the "people of Gujarat" start to wonder why Amit Thakker can say so, but if Aamir Khan says so, he must be immediately branded "anti-Gujarat" and his films denied to the "people of Gujarat"?

    But there's something here that interests me more than apologies demanded and films seen or not.

    There seems to me a very simple solution to R&R with dams. I often wonder why nobody has seriously attempted it. Why not resettle displaced people in the command area of the dam? Meaning, they get the benefits of the dam that drove them out of their homes. In fact, why not make the the first beneficiaries of water and whatever else the dams deliver? Why not tell those who live in the command area: "You want all these goodies from the dam? Well, here's the price: you have to find a way to accept these people whom the dam has displaced."

    Seems like a perfectly plausible answer. After all, we're asking these displaced people to "sacrifice" for the "good of the country." Why not treat them as we treat others whom we applaud for making such sacrifices: meaning, of course, our armed forces? We treat those people extraordinarily well. They get housing, quality education and innumerable other benefits, not forgetting the respect of an entire country. Well, why not the same for these other sacrificers?

    So here's the proposition, and I believe it should be far more in the interest of Gujarat than not seeing a film. What if the "people of Gujarat" say to the affected people who are not being rehabilitated (and who are willing to move to Gujarat): "Please come live in our state. If you're affected by the dam, we welcome you here and you will be its first beneficiaries." What if they demand that this be done?

    How about it, Amit Thakker? Make us proud.

    Niket said...

    Kudos to Aamir Khan for standing up and refusing to apologize. I hope what you said in "Imagine" comes true.

    Niket said...

    And hope the dam gets built soon enough.

    Kaveetaa Kaul said...

    There seem to be a plethora of hidden motives/agendas to all of the ruckus. Frankly, it fails to color me that Aamir , if simply reiterating the verdict of the supreme court is being penalised so harshly. If that were the case, why is Arundhati getting off cheaply? she has been at it longer with Medha? Or for that matter the Chief Justice , who had almost dubbed gujarat a terrorist state?

    There was an interesting debate on one of the television chanels where rather pertinent observations were made. One of the panelists even suggested that aamir, holds the unique(in this case) distinction of being an actor and a Muslim. This combination is lethal as far as Gujarats political leaders are concerned. His statements, if any, on the riots has precipitated this uproar..or so it seems.

    What is coming across insiduously is the fact that although 'officially' the Film fanaa has not been banned, yet the underlying current is so potent that none of the theatre owners or multiplexes have dared to impose their professional will over political clout. It says a lot for the remote controlled power that is wielded in Gujarat.

    Your suggestion is valid and progressive. But the question is whether a sincere effort at solutions is being attempted, in the first place.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    And hope the dam gets built soon enough.

    Actually, you're right. Because it might be the only way the "people of Gujarat" will understand that it is a mistaken project.

    Anonymous said...

    Narmada is a "Mistaken project"!!
    Your book couldn't prove it - last heard that the water short villagers were using pages from that damned book to wipe their back.

    You aware of Govt investigating the foreign funding of NBA? No, this secular govt is doing it.

    Yeah, kudos for Aamir for refusing to apologize. Just curious, on his apology to Pakistan for his Sarfarosh, what's your stance? Remember that or selective secular memory in play here?
    The citizens of Gujarat deserve a comtempt worse than citizens of Pakistan?

    Anonymous said...

    Dilip, Sounds like you still sore on Dangs happening without your doomsday predictions?

    Did the Gujarat govt issue a ban on Aamir Khan's movie? But some of the state govts Nagaland, Punjab etc have officially banned 'Da Vinci Code'. Seems like comparing the two movies would be a violation of our secular code no?

    Dilip, this namesake of yours - Dolphin D'Souza, she speak for you?

    Anonymous said...

    different codes for Dan Brown & Amir Khan

    The Communist parties and their progeny, Sahmat, projected the “social boycott” of Fanaa — both the BJP and the Congress in the state have come out against the Khan-starrer — as a demonstration of the “cultural fascism” prevailing in Mr Modi’s Gujarat. “Gujarat now has the distinction of allowing a small group of people with a clear agenda of communal hate politics to deprive the people’s access to culture,” a statement issued by Sahmat said.

    Interestingly, Sahmat was silent when the UPA government capitulated to pressure from hard line elements in the Catholic community over The Da Vinci Code and made community leaders “super censors”. The CPM, it be recalled, refused to take a public stand on The Da Vinci Code. Nor did the Communists comment about the government’s flirtations with hard line community opinion.

    Anonymous said...

    hmmm. i will post this one under this comforting cloaca of anonymity.

    to the first anonymous: you think the ssp (sardar sarovar project) is a good idea. read this. http://www.aidindia.org/publications/proceedings/india_1999/speaker2.htm

    it is a speech by ramaswamy iyer, a former water secretary of india, one of the best water experts this country has seen. and then refute what he says.

    i am sorry for adopting this schoolmarmish approach. i have been tracking the debates raging in the indian blog space (especially on reservations) for a while now. and they are just so fucking disappointing -- like debates on television.

    we should argue, yes, but cogently, with facts. without crude generalisations or name calling. and so, anonymous number one, do read what iyer says, and let us have a discussion about that.

    warm regds.

    Jo said...

    Finally a post on the dam project that makes some sense.

    Why not treat them as we treat others whom we applaud for making such sacrifices

    Because most of them are tribals and they are no good vote banks. Tribals of this country are born to be abused, and be beaten up for the urban sake. And its them who have to lose their homes and we don't have to care about how they live afterwards. Isn't it?

    Anonymous said...

    June 03, 2006 11:32 PM, Anonymous:

    Tale of two Khans sales it all.

    - anonymous number one

    Anonymous said...

    dear anonymous number one,

    sorry. just saw your reply.
    i read the story. and it makes the following points about why the dam ought to be built.

    "...for the state the water that will be available will be a big
    relief to many parts, particularly the drought areas of Saurashtra."

    and that...

    "He has chosen to ignore reports
    about the rehabilitation of the displaced persons, and, more
    importantly, ignored reports about how NBA is forcing many people not to accept the rehabilitation package. Critical observers (some who are also political opponents of the present Gujarat Government) have
    commented quite favourably about the work done so far."

    three statements. the last one can be dismissed with ease. narmada is the one issue that unites the cong and the bjp. there is no way the cong is going to come forward and say that the dam is not needed -- that would be political harakiri.

    reports on the rehabilitation. you clearly think that the rehab is moving smoothly. i find this surprising. because i have spoken to people (all, incidentally, unconnected with the nba) about the situation on the ground, and they say that the tribals (especially in MP, the area with maximal submergence) are in a bad way. that the rehab is a sham. pls support your statement.

    as for the first one, that is the standard rationale doled out for building a dam. the water will be taken to drought-prone areas. i will make a bet with you. most of the water will go into slaking the thirst of a city like ahmedabad. as for the irrigation waters, you will see farmers at the head of the canal starting to grow water intensive crops. and the tail will get nothing at all. it is the story of every dam in this country.

    looking forward to continuing this with you.

    Anonymous said...


    Let's get on with my original post: why's govt investing the foreign funding of NBA?

    How's rehab for those jhopdis blown away in last July's deluge coming along?

    And you chose to completely ignore the other Khan and run with Amir as always - a la Dilip. Wonder why?

    Anonymous said...

    for anonymous number one,
    sorry for the late reply again. been travelling. in the original post, you supported the dam. i disagreed and pointed you towards an article by ramaswamy iyer.
    the issue i want to discuss with you is not about the nba, or about aamir khan, or the people living in the jhopdis. it is whether the dam is a good idea. in the long run, it will either prove to be an abomination or a blessing. you think it will be a blessing. i think it will not deliver on many of its promises.
    i am curious to understand why you think so. tell me about that, instead of trying to score rhetorical points by banging on about the khans and, ha ha, reflecting on the doubtless criminal impulses that make me side with dilip on this one.