Imagine the blueprint of a ten-lane expressway that will rip through elite farmhouses outside Delhi and smart highrises in Gurgaon. How would those uprooted by the plan react when it is communicated to them that they have been 'suitably' relocated at the other end of the city, say Sonepat? They will, one assumes, without so much as a protest, pack up and move. Why? Simply because they are selfless, evolved humans who believe that people have to make sacrifices for the great common weal. Waving the tri-colour they will head towards their new homes, happy in the knowledge that they have served national interest. In their mind's eye they will see thousands and thousands of vehicles speed in and out of Delhi. `Our capital will be blessed by this expressway. And blessed will be those who have contributed to it becoming a reality,' will be the refrain.
Can all this be in the realm of reality? It should be. That's if one factors in the gyaan that is being dollopped out by commentators and politicians to the thousands displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam. For the thinking class, Medha Patkar has no business to fast. The hapless sods who lost their acres should be happy with the arid land given in its stead. After all, they are getting something and, well, the dam is for the people of India. It is time they look beyond themselves and think of the millions who will benefit from their sacrifice: the greater common good.
This is the more polite drift in editorial columns. In the capital's cocktail circuit the spin is less refined: What business does Medha Patkar and those activists dressed in Fab India kurtas have to organise the people? If people like them had kept quiet there would have been no tamasha. The people don't want to protest, it's these activists who are creating the problem. Medha and her sympathisers like Arundhati Roy have been bestowed the 'kabab mein haddi' status. They have been ridiculed at every opportunity.
One publication even ran a story of how well the Narmada oustees are doing for themselves. The lead image was of a rich farmer standing proudly outside his double storied bungalow of the garish kind you will see in Greater Kailash. The spin given by the publication: `look aren't they happy?' If this generalisation were indeed true, then not a single soul would have bothered to turn up at Jantar Mantar to protest.
The inability or refusal to see the world from any perspective other than the one that is convenient seems to be a growing infection. So any problem that impacts PLUs [People Like Us] is of grave concern, while one can be dismissive of whatever happens to People Like Them (PLTs). They are the masses who were born to suffer, struggle or commit suicide. Nothing can be done to better their lot, so let them be.
The reason for this line of thinking is plain to see. When it comes to dalits or backward castes or the poor there is this upper caste mindset that they are people who are born to suffer. They have no business to complain. They aren't tax payers and contribute in no way to wellness of the nation. Neither are they destined to become doctors, engineers or bureaucrats. So why encourage them when they have no merit? In all the noise being made against reservation, no one has raised the question as to why members of one caste have had the temple priest's job reserved for them for centuries. Shouldn't the Shankaracharya be chosen on merit after a nationwide exam? Also, what about the rich who buy their way into medical and engineering colleges?
All this is not to say that one should bypass merit. The percentage of reserved seats is a question that needs to be addressed. But this must be done objectively. One must understand that the PLTs start with a disadvantage. Most of them do not have the benefit of good schooling and need that extra push. But once given the opportunity, they do come good.
As for the Narmada oustees one need not accept all that Medha Patkar & Co allege at face value. But we needn't be totally dismissive either. And please, let us not go about preaching the national interest theory which most of us will never practice in our own lives.