ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Representing Narmada

Representing Narmada Krishna Kumar In the Belly of the River by Amita Baviskar; Oxford University Press, Delhi, AMITA BAVISKAR provides what might well be the most succinct and unreluctantly partisan summary of the Sardar Sarovar Project given by an objective researcher to date: 'The SSP is one of India's many large multi-purpose river valley projects that seek to abrogate the riparian rights of one section of the population in order to provide water or electricity to other people, mainly elites" (p 198). For a book written with conscious sensitivity to words, and not just to problems, this is a remarkable statement of commitment indeed, especially in view of the fact that it leaves the term 'elites' in a state of undefined vagueness. In another place where Baviskar suggests that she has her ear'closer to the ground, she disaggregates the term 'elites' and finds a section of them to be among the losers in the SSP game. She claims that the interests of this section, namely the patidars of Nimar, have been downplayed even as another riparian community, that of bhilalas inhabiting the hilly vicinity of the Sardar Sarovar dam, has been 'showcased' by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). As the book proceeds beyond the gentle anthropology of the middle chapters describing bhilalalife, it picks up an irascible and wordy tone. This new tone remains somewhat under control in the portion portraying the conscientising efforts of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS), but gets audibly shrill towards the final sections which describe the politics of the NBA. Though aware and even appreciative of the NBA's pervasive effect on the valley, the book accuses it of lacking integrity. Luckily, there are limits to what can be proved in the course of adoctoral dissertation, even one written for Cornell. The charge against NBA remains unsubstantiated, and the reader is left to wonder whether Baviskar had attempted too much, especially with her ambition to span the vast distance that any student of society should know separates the logic of enquiry from the logic of action.

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