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Politics of Narmada: Shivraj Singh Chouhan makes five sadhus ministers to save river in Madhya Pradesh

Bhopal: Politics in Madhya Pradesh, it seems, may revolve around river Narmada before the Assembly polls due in the state in November. Known as the lifeline of the state, Narmada has been in the spotlight since Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan undertook a six-month long Narmada Seva Yatra from December 2016 to May last year. The state spent Rs 40 crore on this event, half of which was used for its publicity, the government had informed the Assembly after the mega event.

File image of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. PTI

Namami Devi Narmade, as it was named, was a government programme and Shivraj would hop in his chopper between Bhopal and to different spots of the yatra almost on a regular basis where big programmes were organised on the river bank.

Congress Rajya Sabha member and AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh is already holding a circumambulation of the river which also covers as many as 120 Assembly seats of the state.

A notification of the General Administration Department (GAD) of the state government on 3 April said that Chouhan has formed a special team of five sadhus—Computer Baba, Swami Narmadanand, Hariharanand, Bhayu Maharaj and Yogendra Mahant—and accorded them the status of ministers of state on 31 March.

A day before Computer Baba of Indore was to launch a one-and-half month long Narmada Ghotala yatra from 1 April, Chouhan accorded him the status of minister of state. Bhayu Maharaj, known as grihastha sait is an influential spiritual guru popular among the politicians of Maharashtra.

Moniker Computer Baba, to quote himself, comes from his style of completing a task as fast as a computer. A critic of Chouhan, Baba now says, “Mananiya mukhyamantri ji has given me a task and I will complete it honestly”.

The task given to the team of sadhus is to work in the direction of conserving and preserving the river where illegal sand mining is rampant disturbing the ecology and endangering its very existence. From Amarkantak to Badwani in the downstream during the entire length of the of 1,077-kilometre river in Madhya Pradesh—till Gulf of Cambay in Gujarat, it is a 1,312-kilometre long water body—carrying municipal waste of more than 60 cities which include as big as Jabalpur and Hoshangabad.

The team of spiritual gurus will also ensure plantation on both sides of the water body.  The Chouhan government already attempted a world record last year and claimed to have planted six crore saplings in 12 hours.

In this backdrop, the Narmada Ghotala Yatra was planned. One of the team members—now a minister—Yogendra Mahant was the convener of the yatra of Computer Baba. They planned to expose Chouhan’s Narmada Yatra, how saplings planted near the river have dried up and the issue of illegal mining. The Congress already alleged misuse of Rs 40 crore by Shivraj in the Narmada Seva Yatra.

Digvijaya Singh, who would be finishing his Narmada Yatra on 9 April, has been documenting the illegal mining and the pollution taking place in the river. He has also documented the saplings planted by the government on the river bank claiming a place in Guinness book.

Shivraj is already anticipating major onslaught from Digvijaya on the issues pertaining to Narmada, which also include releasing excess water to Gujarat at the cost of Madhya Pradesh, a large part of which is facing drought. On the banks of the river live a large number of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Class. There are also issues related to the farmers who live on the bank of the river and are believed to be unhappy with the government.

Digvijaya, who seems to have diluted his pro-Muslim image by performing Narmada Parikrama, is going to provide a much-needed sharpness to the Congress attack on BJP. He is believed to play an important role in reviving the party’s fortunes after 15 years of exile when he lost to Uma Bharti in 2003.

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