Anil Madhav Dave dies at 60: All-round environmentalist who worked for Narmada's conservation throughout his life

In July 2012, Anil Madhav Dave wrote his will. He wished to be cremated by the Narmada river upon his death.

"My funeral be performed in accordance to Vedic rituals, and if possible, cremation be performed on the banks of river Narmada at Bandrabhan, where Nadi Mahotsav was organised. If you want to cherish my memories, plant trees and save them. This would give me pleasure," Dave had said, in a will written and signed by him on 23 July, 2012.

That wasn't just an ordinary wish. The Narmada river, considered the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh, was the chief focus of Dave, union minister of state for environment, who passed away in New Delhi on Thursday at the age of 60. As per his wishes, he would be cremated at 9 am at Bandrabhan in Madhya Pradesh on Friday.

It was only three days ago that one of the biggest recent events associated with the Narmada river culminated at its origin in Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh. Dave must have been happy with the conclusion of the 148-day 'Namami Devi Narmada Sewa Yatra', that covered 1,100 villages and a distance of 3,350 km — a circumambulation of the river's path, from its origin to its meeting with the sea, by thousands of people.

 Anil Madhav Dave dies at 60: All-round environmentalist who worked for Narmadas conservation throughout his life

File photo of Anil Dave. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a blueprint on the conservation of Narmada at Amarkantak on 15 May — the day the Sewa Yatra concluded.

Dave provided his guidance to the Madhya Pradesh government regarding the conservation of the Narmada river, considered the state's lifeline, and the blueprint was an outcome of this.

It was, after all, a cause that was close to Dave's heart. An early advocate of river conservation and an expert in the field, he had founded the 'Narmada Samagra' NGO to help save the river from pollution and other forms of exploitation.

Dave's connect with Narmada was not just as a fist-in-the-air activist, but was far more deeply emotional than is possible to imagine. Not many would know that the river for him was a symbol of his faith, an entity that he worshipped profoundly. He carried out the circumambulation of the river on foot, through river rafting and by flying around it — he was a trained-licenced private pilot and flew an aircraft around the Narmada in a unique air parikrama that lasted 18 hours.

"His passion for the Narmada and his contribution towards the river's conservation can be judged from his book Amarkantak se Amarkantak Tak. To create public awareness, he flew a Cessna 173 aircraft along the river's banks for 18 hours to complete his circumambulation. He also travelled and completed an insurmountable 1,312-km rafting journey in 19 days.

"Moreover, the Narmada Samagra organisation founded by him works for the conservation of the river and its catchment areas through various activities and events. I've had the opportunity to watch him closely," Hitesh Bajpai, former Madhya Pradesh BJP spokesperson, who accompanied Dave for several activities of the Sangh, recalled.

Dave, who has a Master's degree in Commerce from Gujarati College in Indore with specialisation in Rural Development and Management, was initiated into politics during the JP Narayan uprising. After joining Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he worked relentlessly for the Narmada's conservation.

Hoshangabad's 'Nadi Mahotsav' (river festival) at Bandrabhan — a biennial one-of-its-kind event in Asia — was his brain child. It soon became a global brand, and covered issues regarding climate change, global warming, environment and river conservation. Dave minced no words in slamming even the functioning of National Green Tribunal (NGT). "He was a nationalist at the core. He was so deeply engrossed in the issues regarding the rivers and the environment that he set up a small ashram by the Narmada in Hoshangabad. He used to go to the forest resorts or his ashram, whenever he wanted to think by himself in isolation. As a medical practitioner, I have seen that despite being a diabetic, he preferred to undergo natural way of curing himself, rather than taking allopathic medicines. He preferred sleeping on the floor and didn't using an air-conditioner," says Bajpai, chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Civil Supplies Corporation.

Even though Narmada occupied top priority in Dave's life, he was an all-round environmentalist who also wrote several books on the subject in both Hindi and English. He also wrote on Chhatrapati Shivaji, and earned good readership for this. Therefore, his appointment as minister of state for environment in the Narendra Modi government last year was no surprise to polity watchers.

"His appointment as MoS for Environment and Climate Change was expected. The Sangh wanted his capabilities to rightly be used by the Modi government. Had he lived further, he would have definitely been elevated to a Cabinet role. He was also concerned about the Ganga and other rivers. There were indications that the government wanted him to play a bigger role in the days to come. He earned respect, not only from his party colleagues, but also from the opponents due to his loveable nature," said Bhopal-based journalist Rakesh Agnihotri, who has closely seen Dave from his days as an "organisational man".

The other ace up Dave's sleeve was the fact that he was a master political strategist. Indian polity, that is undergoing tremendous unprecedented upheaveals for the past few decades, will remember Dave as a pioneer of the political strategists who have come later in the day. Way back in 2003, he helmed a successful campaign for the BJP and against the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh, leading to the latter's ouster from the state after two successive terms. The BJP has not lost the state since then.

According to political pundits, Dave's name had even been making the rounds as a possible next chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, after the 2018 Assembly election.

"He wasn't a mass leader in terms of winning a seat for himself by contesting an election, but he was an astute strategist and an able administrator. Within the party, Dave was seen as a potential candidate to replace present Shivraj Singh Chauhan as chief minister, if BJP won the 2018 Assembly election," a party insider remarked.

Dave's functioning, be it as an activist, a BJP office bearer or as a minister, always reflected discipline of the Sangh. "We developed a good rapport as friends from the time when Anil Dave had been functioning as 'Vibhag Pracharak' in Bhopal. His untimely demise is a personal loss to me. He proved his mettle as a Vibhag Pracharak, BJP office bearer in various capacities, an activist who took up the cause of conservation Narmada and other rivers, as an environmentalist and as a minister at the Centre. The people, the society and the central government have lost an efficient worker with immense will power," RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat said in his condolence message on Thursday.

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Updated Date: May 19, 2017 09:19:33 IST