By Sharat Kumar Rout
Recently, the central team of a political party visited the Vedanta University project site near Puri and participated in a meeting of the group opposed to the project. The team leaders flayed the BJD government of Orissa to their hearts’ content and declared their firm opposition to the University project. They criticised the state government vehemently for giving away ‘prime agricultural land’ at ‘throw-away’ prices for the proposed University, expressed ‘shock’ at selling of Lord Jagannath’s land for the same purpose and also questioned the very logic behind establishment of a world class University in the Puri-Konark area. Well, they came, they saw and went away happily, believing perhaps that they conquered too. But, apart from providing some grist for the media mill, the whole exercise has gained nothing for the party concerned. What actually has come to fore is its glaring double standards. Inviting this mega University project to Orissa in 2006 was the decision of the erstwhile coalition Government in which three important Ministers, namely, law, Revenue and Higher Education, were from the said political party. Obviously, departments under these three Ministers played a very proactive role as far as the University MOU and the related matters were concerned. For all one knows, these particular Ministers were the main votaries of the University project. The central team of this party is surely not unaware of this fact. But now, because of the political dynamics before and after the last election, the party is no longer in the Government and so, it has just decided to play the role of the opposition to the hilt! This, among other things, clearly underscores the overly political nature of the opposition to Vedanta University project.
If one closely follows the anti-Vedanta University opponents and their modus operandi, it will be apparent that out of the 18 revenue villages coming within the proposed University site, only one particular group of people belonging to a particular village has been at the forefront. That they were never against the University project at the beginning and have been brainwashed by some local politicians to form an antagonist group, is also common knowledge. But this anti-Vedanta University group and its local political leaders have been emboldened over the last two years, because of the sustained support of different political parties, groups and personalities who, for various reasons, are opposed to the Naveen Pattnaik- led Government of Orissa. These political vested interests have naturally been able to create a whole lot of hype and hoopla about an anti-Vedanta University ‘movement’ and this, in turn, has been occupying so much of media space and time The usual shouting brigade consisting of the foreign-funded NGOs, their high-flying activists and the celebrity ambassadors they manage to rope in, has only made matters worse. Irrespective of the merit or propriety of the project opponents’ remonstrations, they succeed in creating or increasing doubt in public mind. The intelligentsia is also easily swayed by the media hype, more so because, in these stressful times no one practically has the time or inclination to be properly informed or think about any particular issue no matter how important it is for the society or the country at large. The cumulative result is that fear, suspicion or anxiety of the local community, whose life will be affected directly or indirectly by the project, is intensified creating more elbow-room for further politicking and the project work is delayed.
It is not to say that the people of the project area do not have any genuine grievances. But, surely there are ways and means of taking care of the grievances without stopping the project work. Besides, if the compensation package for land acquisition and other benefits to be made available to the land losers as per the R&R policy are dispassionately analysed, one can very well see that the possible pros far outweigh the cons. And, it will also be clear that most of the allegations of the project opponents are unfounded and unreal. It is high time that the intelligentsia, the youth, the student community and especially, the impartial opinion makers, shunned the shenanigans of the self-serving politicians and raised their voice in favour of the early establishment of a world class University in our state. It is learnt that an IIT could not be established in our state in the 60’s, due to the lack of foresight of our political class and the decision makers. Now, after more than four decades, one IIT has come to us. If we let go an opportunity like the Vedanta University now, perhaps we will never get another in the next hundred years.
[Sharat Kumar Rout, columnist, cell No: 9337369448, Maytree Enclave,Naharakanta,Bhubaneswar.]