Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday asked how the Congress could ask for votes in Gujarat when its leader in the Bharat Jodo Yatra was joined by an activist who stalled the Narmada dam project, PTI reported.

Modi made the indirect reference to Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar during a rally at the town of Dhoraji in the Rajkot district. She had joined the Congress’ march on November 18 in Maharashtra.

The prime minister on Sunday said that the Sardar Sarovar dam over the Narmada river was delayed as several persons tried to stall it.

“The Narmada project was the only solution to quench the thirst of the arid region of Kutch and Kathiyawad,” Modi said. “You must have seen yesterday how a Congress leader was doing padayatra with a woman, who was an anti-Narmada activist. She and others had stalled the project for three decades by creating legal hurdles.”

The prime minister alleged that some activists had defamed Gujarat so much that even the World Bank stopped giving funds for the dam, according to PTI.

“When Congress leaders approach you to seek votes, I want you to ask them to explain on what moral ground the opposition party is seeking votes when their leader was doing padayatra with a woman who was against the Narmada project,” Modi said at the rally. “I urge you to ask this question to Congress.”

On September 23, Modi had alleged that “urban Naxals” had opposed the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat for many years by propagating misinformation that it would harm the environment. He said that an enormous amount of money was wasted due to this delay.

The term “urban Naxals” was first used by Union ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders after several activists and academicians were arrested in the Elgar Parishad case in 2018. Since then, the term has often been used for dissidents of the Modi-led government.

On November 18, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel alleged that the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi have time and again “shown their animosity” towards Gujarat and its residents.

“By giving Medha Patkar a central place in his Yatra, Rahul Gandhi shows that he stands with those elements who denied water to Gujaratis for decades,” Patel said. “Gujarat will not tolerate this.”

On Monday, Modi again criticised the Congress saying that those who were dethroned long back were taking out a yatra to get back the power, PTI reported. He also said that some people abuse Gujarat despite consuming the salt manufactured in the state.

Assembly polls in Gujarat will be held in two phases on December 1 and December 5. The results will be declared on December 8, along with those of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections.

Sardar Sarovar project

The Sardar Sarovar Dam was built in Kevadia town on the Narmada river in Gujarat. The project aims to provide domestic and industrial water supply for about 30 million persons, and water from the dam is also used to generate electricity.

However, in the late 1980s and 1990s, the project faced strong opposition from Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andalon. The organisation had opposed the grant of World Bank funding to the project, citing ecological concerns.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan had also claimed that the project would submerge hundreds of villages in the dam’s vicinity, and sought adequate compensation for project-affected persons.