Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI: “Today Saraswati has come to Narmada,” was how social worker and reformer Baba Amte described writer Arundhati Roy’s “Rally for the Valley” coming to the banks of the river at Kasrawad in Badwani district in Madhya Pradesh.

He had moved there in 1990 from his Anandvan Ashram in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district to lend support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).

Speaking to The Hindu from Nagpur on her way to the ashram on Saturday to attend Baba Amte’s funeral, NBA leader Medha Patkar described his death as a “great loss to the biradari of activists.”

“He was a brilliant person and at the same time very humane. He saw great energy and contributing capacity in every human being including leprosy patients with whom he was working. A lot of activists in the country have come out of his Somnath camp. It is a great loss for all of us.”

Describing Baba Amte as a “great visionary,” Ms. Patkar said his vision was not merely Gandhian but a combination of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Tolstoy and Tagore. There was a commonality of ideology and philosophy with movements such as the NBA.

Unfulfilled ambitions

Ms. Patkar, who met the Baba just a few days ago at his ashram, said many of his ambitions could not be achieved. After Bharat Jodo in 1985, he wanted to have youth centres. He also wanted to visit Pakistan for peace and harmony. He became incapacitated. “Yet, he used to follow every discovery, every event, every happening not only around him but around the globe. Unlike other visionaries, he was very good at strategising. Whether it was national integration [Bharat Jodo] or communal riots or the Narmada dam struggle, he would jump into the critical situation like an activist and was not a mere celebrity.”

Ms. Patkar said she met the Baba in 1988 when he himself was opposing the Ichhampalli dam that was to displace Adivasis.

Later, when Ms. Patkar was in a dilemma over whether she should take on the Enron (Power Co) battle or not, she consulted the Baba, who encouraged her to enlarge the scope of her struggle. “You must go wherever needed,” said the crusader.

“He was not just a lawyer pleading for the downtrodden but was a scientist at heart and a technocrat ready to put in hard work to disseminate technology. This is being carried on by his sons, Prakash and Vikas, and his grandchildren.”

Vibha Gupta, chairperson of the Magan Sangrahlaya Samiti in Wardha, recalled that Baba Amte inspired such values in his family that for his 84th birthday at Dhramragarh in Gadchiroli district, one of his grandsons and his four friends “presented themselves to him as a gift.”

All the just-graduated doctors “gifted” themselves in the service of leprosy patients and tribals. This made the Baba swell with pride.