Wednesday, Feb 01, 2023

Modi hai to mumkin hai: arid Kutch swears by Narmada

Kutch Branch Canal narrative is making ripples amid Gujarat polls even as BJP targets Congress over Medha Patkar's presence at Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Somnath temple. (Express Photo by Nirmal Harindran)

The nearly 150 families in Mod Kuba, a remote village on the edge of Arabian Sea in Kutch district, prefer to retire early on most days, which usually begin at dawn for them.

But July 7 this year was no ordinary day for the residents of Mod Kuba, which marks the tail-end of the 357-km-long Kutch Branch Canal (KBC) of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on the Narmada river, which has been among the centrepieces of the BJP’s campaign narrative in poll-bound Gujarat.

Shimmering under a half moon, as water started flowing through the Narmada canal around midnight, the villagers rejoiced, breaking into loud cheers and setting off firecrackers.

“We wanted to celebrate the moment we waited for months and years,” says 68-year-old Kiritbhai Bhanushali, who places his support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi above his loyalty for the BJP since its Jan Sangh days.

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But their joy was short-lived, with a section of the canal near the village developing a breach within 24 hours. “In July, water was released as part of a test to assess the structural safety of the canal, which got delayed due to land acquisition issues. Later, the breaches were identified and repaired,” says a top official of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL).

On August 28, PM Modi officially inaugurated the KBC, which is a branch of the Narmada Main Canal (NMC), which originates at Kevadia. However, the water supply has once again come to a halt in the canal due to another “breach”, say villagers.

“There was an accident in which a few youths drowned in the canal recently, forcing us to stop flow of water. Also, the Rabi sowing season has just started. Water will be released in phases based on assessment of aggregate demand from a number of areas at a time,” says the SSNNL official.


For the ruling BJP, however, in the belts of Mod Kuba and the adjoining areas, which come under the Mandvi Assembly constituency that will vote on December 1, such setbacks seem to have been overshadowed by the popular appeal enjoyed by the PM.

“If Narendrabhai has delivered the (Sardar Sarovar) dam and the canal, he will ensure that we get water regularly as well. It is but a matter of time,” says a local electrician Arvind Bhai Khatri, blaming the Congress for the delay in completion of the project.

The narrative is taking root at a time the BJP has started targeting the Congress over the presence of social activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar – who led a movement against the SSP on the grounds of mass displacement and ecological destruction – at the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra in Maharashtra recently.


Bagged by the BJP during the last three state polls, Mandvi is among the six Assembly constituencies of Kutch district, which has a population density of only 46 as per the 2011 population census. Like in other parts of the state, Mandvi is also witnessing a triangular contest this time due to the entry of the AAP.

And much like in Mandvi, the commissioning of the canal dominates the poll chatter across Kutch. At the Bhachau taluka, through which the canal enters Kutch, many residents claim they are determined, “more than ever before”, to vote for the BJP due to the KBC.

“Bhachau was among the first areas in Kutch to get benefited by KBC. We started getting drinking water from the Narmada during the chief ministership of Keshubhai (Patel) itself. Irrigation water through the canal started streaming in five years back. It has come as a boon for a predominantly arid region like Kutch,” says Indrajit Singh Jadeja, a farmer.

The 20 bighas of land tilled by Jadeja, however, is yet to be covered by the command area of the canal. “Wo bhi ho jayega (that will also happen),” he adds, predicting a BJP sweep in Gandhidham constituency, under which Bhachau comes. The Congress had won the neighbouring Rapar and Abdasa seats in 2017.

Back in Mod Kuba, Bhanushali laments that the area offers no opportunities for young people like his own two sons, forcing them to migrate to metropolises like Mumbai. “And in the face of rising input costs, farming cotton and groundnut is hardly sustainable,” he says.


Many parts of Kutch still depend on borewells, whose digging cost up to Rs 400 per foot. And the depth of borewells varies from 350 feet to 700 feet depending on availability of ground water.

“Unseasonal rains recently damaged crops for which we were promised relief, which remains on paper,” Bhanushali says, adding one more item in his list of grievances against the ruling BJP.


But those issues, he stresses, will not influence his voting choices. After all, India’s stature is “only rising” at the world stage under the leadership of Modi. “G20 dekha nahi aapne? Indonesia main? India is the leader now.”

First published on: 21-11-2022 at 16:16 IST
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