The founder of the non-profit Isha Foundation, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has launched a ‘Rally for Rivers’ campaign to address the issue of the country’s fast-depleting rivers. As part of the “nation-wide campaign”, the organisation has said it will plant trees along the banks of rivers and their tributaries, with Jaggi Vasudev himself set to drive through 16 states. His Isha Foundation is also drafting what it calls a “national policy recommendation”, which it will hand over to the Central government, seeking a long-term policy to save rivers
Monojit Majumdar: You started the Rally for Rivers campaign. Can you tell us something about it and why it is so important?
My engagement with mountains, rivers and forests has been right from my childhood. I have lived in the jungles by myself; I have floated down rivers. So, I didn’t experience these rivers, mountains, forests as some mythological figures but as thriving, living entities. In the past 25 years, I have been watching with some concern the level of depletion that has been happening. In the last seven-eight years, the rate of depletion is so sharp that it is alarming.
For example, the Cauvery, which is a battleground between two states, stopped 170 km short of the ocean this year. For three-and-a-half months, it doesn’t reach the ocean. The Krishna doesn’t touch the ocean for over four months; the Narmada doesn’t touch the ocean for almost two months. These were all perennial rivers just a decade ago. Today, they have become seasonal. Indian rivers have over 100 varieties of fish and other aquatic life. This is the highest anywhere on the planet. If these become seasonal, believe me, the species will vanish in dozens a year.
What took nature to produce over millions of years, now in one generation, we want to wipe it out. I think it’s the most horrible crime one can commit. And above all, we have a population of about 1.25 billion to 1.3 billion people and the level of soil depletion is such that at least 25 per cent of the agricultural land in the country will not be cultivable in the next three-five years. Estimates say that in 20 years, over 40 per cent will not be cultivable. In 40 years, 60 per cent of the land will not be cultivable.
By 2030, it is estimated that we will have only 50 per cent of the water we need for our survival in this country. We as a generation have had the largest bite of this planet. Never before has any generation, in the history of civilisation, taken such a big bite of the planet. To a point where our children will have nothing to bite on.
In my opinion, and this is how it should be, the first stakeholder is the river, second is the farmer, third is the larger community, fourth is the government and local administration and the other aspects which are involved. But the first is the river. We are fighting about how to use the river, we are not talking about how to revitalise or save the river. If this doesn’t come across, the time to urge people, the NGOs, the corporate houses, to do something for the river is over. We have reached a point where we need a mandatory, enforceable policy as to how we should behave with water bodies.
It is no longer an individual priority, it is no longer the whim of a particular person or body as to what we should do with our rivers. There has to be an enforceable policy as the river is not a private property. The river is a national treasure.
Coomi Kapoor: What was the government’s reaction to your proposal on what should be done to save our natural resources?
The time to go to the government comes after we have created a certain base. That’s what we are trying to do right now. Because it is a concurrent subject between the state and the Centre, we are getting the concurrence of the states. This is why I am personally driving from Kanyakumari to the foothills of the Himalayas, through 16 states. All the chief ministers have confirmed their attendance at our events.
Another aspect of this policy is, if we go aggressively, it will take another 10-15 years to implement it. If you implement this in 15 years’ time, it will take another 10 years before the water in the river actually rises. So, a minimum of 25 years is needed to produce water in the rivers. This is not an election-winning policy, obviously.
If this kind of a step has to be taken, the people of India, the citizens of this nation have to clearly make a statement: ‘We have come of age, we are mature enough. If you make a long-term policy for the well being of this nation we will stand by you’. That is what I am trying to build. The consensus stage has come. We want 30 crore missed calls. If 30 crore electorates say yes, no government can go back on it. Confidently, we are going towards it. The Environment Ministry is totally with us.
Jyoti Malhotra: What do you think about a gentleman who is also a yoga guru, Swami Ramdev.
But you didn’t say he was a ‘godman’, you said he was a yogi. The ‘godman’ was invented by you people, the journalists. Nobody ever claimed that ‘I am a godman’, never, as far as I know. If somebody did, then you can address him that way, but I don’t think anyone did. I don’t think Baba Ramdev has ever called himself a ‘godman’. You are saying that. I don’t know where ‘godmen’ are; I have never seen one.
Jyoti Malhotra: Someone like Baba Ramdev is very influential. He is very close to the Prime Minister. Where do you draw the line, or should there be a line?
What makes you think that the PM is so naive that he will get influenced by anybody and everybody. Does the man look like that? He is definitely not naive.
Monojit Majumdar: You are an author, adventurer, environmentalist… What is the common thread through all of this to create the man that is the Sadhguru?
Just alive to everything. I am not passionate about any one thing. I speak passionately. I drive passionately. If I hit a ball, I will do it passionately too. Because I don’t understand how you go through life without involvement. Whatever I am doing in my life, whether big or small, I am 100 per cent involved. If it seems strange, I am sorry, because you are seeing people who are constipated in the head. They can only do certain things. As for me, if I go on the street, I may dance with a beggar, and the next moment I will be sitting on the pedestal and talking. It doesn’t matter what it is. I will not waste a single moment of my life without involvement.
Monojit Majumdar: What do you think is the role of spirituality in politics?
Let’s understand the word spiritual. If you are thinking spirituality is looking up or down, you are wrong. Spiritual process means turning inward, in every human being, irrespective of the nature of your activity, whatever the nature of your activity. We are doing spiritual programmes, called inner engineering, in all the prisons in south India and the US. And we have programmes with politicians. Because, in my eyes, I don’t see politicians, prisoners, this, that. All I see is human beings and human beings need inner balance and enhancement from within. And above all, in some way, if you do not produce great human beings, how do you build a great nation? How do you make that happen? How do you make a great world? When you say great human beings, what is the big deal about them? Were they the most brilliant people on the planet? Not really; it’s just that they transcended their boundaries, limitations, prejudices.
This is the fundamental or spiritual process, that you cross the limitations of your body and the mental structures you formed and identify yourself with something more profound. That your experience in life transcends these boundaries. And this is needed, whether you are studying journalism, doing politics, running the nation. This is needed for every human being; to rise above the boundaries we have set for ourselves.
So, why shouldn’t the politicians get it? They must. This has been the culture of the nation forever. All kings in the past had raj gurus to advise them. Because, when you are running the nation, there are various pressures upon you. You tend to become conceited, have problems and may make prejudiced decisions, so there was always somebody to guide them beyond that. I wish the world leaders had this, the biggest nations in the world, I wish they had this.
Coomi Kapoor: You have said that in Tamil Nadu, development has become more important than Dravidian politics. At the same time, you said you didn’t think it was a good idea having street names in Hindi. But it is the national language.
In 1950, when you did the division of states, it was done on linguistic basis. Don’t challenge that now. You cannot change the republic of this country. The moment you challenge linguistic states, you are challenging the Republic of India. Don’t do that every time you get a whim. Because you don’t understand. Tamil is not just a language, it’s a culture, an ethos, it is deep-rooted.
In Tamil Nadu, they say they breathe Tamil, not speak Tamil. So, when there is such a strong emotion, you don’t try to rub your language on them. Because you must understand that Tamil language has a longer history than Sanskrit and much more literature than any other language. Now, suddenly, if you try to impose a language upon them, they will certainly react. It’s unnecessary because the states were divided on linguistic basis and we have to respect that.
Jyoti Malhotra: Do you think the Prime Minister understands that?
I think he understands that there was no policy about this. It is just that some over-enthusiastic people start painting highway signs in Hindi and it unnecessarily invoked a reaction.
Ritu Sarin: Do you think people’s expectations from the political class have lowered gradually?
This is something that you can distinctly see in the past three-four years, that the expectations from the political class have risen immensely. At one time, we had given up. Now, there is hope and it has risen in a big way and I think it should keep rising.
Ritu Sarin: Risen since when?
In the last three-four years, for sure.
Ritu Sarin: Since this government came?
Monojit Majumdar: One of the reasons the rivers are disappearing is because dams are being built in the upper reaches. You need these dams to generate electricity, among other things. But it also puts enormous stress on land, homes. How do you reconcile this dilemma — the greater good and, as you said, the good of the rivers itself?
How is the good of the river not included in the greater good? I don’t understand this. What is the greater good? Destruction of the land and water sources is greater good? In what way is it greater good? No great dams are being built in this country right now because there is nothing to be dammed. Most rivers have become a trickle. They are flowing now only six-eight months.
So, whatever dams have been built in the past, they were as per the understanding of that day. It’s fine; you don’t need to dismantle them. But the dam has a gate, right? So you must open the gate and decide on how much water should be running.
But most rivers are not held back because of the dams. In this country the average precipitation is only for 45 days in a year. The rain that falls for 45 days, you are supposed to hold it in the land and run it as rivers, slowly, over a period of time. This can only happen when there is substantial vegetation to hold this, and then let it go slowly through the year. But due to lack of vegetation, we are going through a cycle of flood and drought, which is happening because when it rains, the water flows away, and when it doesn’t rain, there is a drought. This is the pattern we wish to change.
Rakesh Sinha: What is your take on this assertiveness of ‘Hindutva’?
I’m not here to comment on political ideologies and such. But you must also understand, if you try to look at the situation today without the prism of history, then you would be making a grave mistake. There is still a generation of people who have faced the violence and trauma of Partition on both sides. Those who are on that side, for them the pain of being a Muslim, those who are on this side, for them the pain of being a Hindu, is not totally gone. You can’t just wipe it out like that.
The parents who remember, they put that pain in their children. It is not a small event. And in 70 years, except for a few politically-motivated events, largely we have lived peacefully, adjusting with this and that. Here and there, flare-ups have happened, I am not saying (they haven’t). But you must give it to the people, in spite of such terrible memories — such terrible things happened to their parents or loved ones — inspite of all that, people have managed to live peacefully. Please support that, let healing happen. Let’s move towards a better nation rather than picking on the wound that is there. There is a wound, there is no denying it.
Even if your dog has a wound, you put a collar so he doesn’t scratch. Journalists have the collar or do you have claws to scratch? It’s up to you. I’ll suggest, put the collar, let things settle down, let people focus on improving their lives, improving the nation. There is not just one thing to be done in this country, there are a hundred things to be done in this country. Just travel anywhere in the world and see; there is too much to be done in this country. We are just thinking about how to drive, how to eat, how to spit, how to shit.
In the making of a nation, all this is important. Instead of focusing on those things, we are continuously trying to scratch the old wound. Please don’t scratch the wound, because it is a very deep wound. Don’t touch it for sometime, let people forget that. In another 25 years, maybe when another generation is there and people have forgotten about it, we may respond to things much better.