The waterman of India, Rajendra Singh, is deeply disillusioned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “He charmed even those suspicious among us in 2013 by saying that he was the son of Ganga. And now he has coldly betrayed his mother. Ganga will not give him a second chance as prime minister,” said Rajendra Singh, the celebrated conservationist, who won the Magsaysay award in 2001 and the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015.
“We even stopped our agitation for Ganga when he told us that he would do in three months what the other governments could not do in 30 years,” Rajendra Singh told Onmanorama in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “This man has the miracle of speech but he is a liar,” he said. Singh was in Thiruvananthapuram to present the Manorama Online – Asset Homes Chuttuvattom awards.
Singh said he believed Modi even though he was deeply dissatisfied with Modi's performance as Gujarat chief minister. “After he took over as the chief minister, he threw open the doors to the chemical industry in the state. The Saurashtra region of Gujarat became a chemical zone. Modi turned out to be the biggest polluter,” said Singh, whom The Guardian had in 2008 chosen as one of the 50 people who could save the planet.
Modi also conspired to keep Singh out of Gujarat. “I was working closely with his predecessor Keshubhai Patel. Patel was encouraging conservation work in the Saurashtra area. He was great with water conservation,” Singh said. “But once Modi came to power, he made sure that I would not set foot in Gujarat. Initially, I went there once or twice but then I had to stop going,” Singh said.
The waterman said Modi employed “mafia-type” operations. “He did not issue any public statements or order against me but threatened organisations or people who would want to invite me to their area,” Singh said. If there are no grassroots movements against Modi in places like Gujarat, he said it was because he had effectively smothered them. For instance, Singh said Modi had stopped financial support to Gandhian movements in Gujarat.
Even then, when Modi came to Uttarakhand in 2013 and said “Mein Ganga Ka Beta Hoom. Ganga Ne Mujhe Bulaye hai (I am the son of Ganga. Now my mother has called me back),” Singh was floored. “I thought no one has ever given Ganga so much respect. Let us give him a chance. We even put a halt to our agitation,” Singh said.
Earlier, during the first UPA government, their agitation had led to partial success. Three dams on Bhageerathi, one of the three head-streams of Ganga besides Mandakani and Alakanada, were dismantled. “Then prime minister Manmohan Singh was very receptive. After we talked to him, he agreed to shut down the three dams on Bhageerathi (Loharinag Pala, Pala Maneri and Kotli Bel),” Singh said.
After three years, when the second UPA was in office, Singh and his team felt that more needed to be done. “If three dams on Bhageerathi could be shut down, why not the four other dams on Alakananda and Mandakani,” he said. They sat with Manmohan Singh once again. “But this time he was hesitant, he refused to entertain our demand,” he said. The agitation resumed. Singh started organising Ganga panchayats in towns and villages along the Ganga. It was this agitation that he put on hold trusting Modi's promise.
Singh said Modi, who claimed he was Ganga's son, had not even acknowledged the fight for Ganga after he became prime minister. “Manmohan Singh was receptive and did at least what he could,” he said. “Narendra Modi did not even bother to meet Prof G D Agarwal who was on a fast unto death for Ganga. After 111 days of fast, Agarwal died (on October 11, 2018). Even then Modi did not care to meet him,” Singh said.