Indian bags Magsaysay award

Sandipan Sharma, Jaipur

THAT RAJENDRA Singh was on the waiting list for the Award was being discussed in relevant circles for quite some time. So when news finally came on Monday that the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation had selected the Rajasthan-based activist for this year's award for Community Leadership, it wasn't a big surprise. Right from the day he landed in Alwar, Singh made common cause with water conservation as well as controversies.

Since early 1985, he has involved villagers in constructing more than 4,500 structures for water conservation. His name and fame spread beyond Rajasthan. But with the bouquets came a barrage of brickbats. In 1985, when his fledgling organisation, Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) began spreading its base in Alwar, he met with stiff resistance. Some accused him of being a terrorist, others a kidnapper.

In March 2000, when President Narayanan visited Alwar to award Singh, allegations that a small dam built by TBS had been "filled overnight with water from tankers" to impress the President led to a huge controversy.

More serious allegations came from his one-time colleagues. Former friends like Sawai Singh, who, like Rajendra Singh was a disciple of Sarvodaya leader Siddh Raj Dhadda, fell out saying TBS had been usurped by Singh's non-Sarvodaya principles.

"His honesty was always under cloud. Then, the difference between his self-proclaimed and advertised deeds and ground realities was huge," explained a former colleague.

But, several like the Guru himself stood strongly behind the persistant worker. "Rajendra fully deserves the award," Dhadda said. "Forget the carping, his work is for all to see," said, M S Rathore, water conservation expert and professor at the Institute of Development Studies.