"I have rejuvenated nine rivers in my lifetime. I haven't seen any of them rejuvenate with a missed call," said well-known water activist Rajendra Singh, criticising Isha Foundation's 'Rally for Rivers' campaign.
Rajendra, who is also known as the 'Waterman of India', was referring to the campaign's call to people to support the cause by leaving a missed call on 80009 80009. Led by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Rally for Rivers is an ambitious project which aims to revive the country's rivers.
Rajendra’s scathing comments come a few months after he appeared in a video for the Foundation, seemingly lending his support to the campaign. Now however, Rajendra reveals what he told Sadhguru and his team when he met them, and how it apparently fell on deaf ears.
In Coimbatore for the Bharathappuzha river rejuvenation convention, Rajendra told media persons categorically that he would never support Rally for Rivers.
What Rajendra told Sadhguru and his team
Rajendra alleged that when he met Jaggi and his team, though he doesn’t specify when, he tried to explain to them the role of a godman in rejuvenating rivers. In his opinion, a godman should hold a moral compass for the government as well as the people when they start exploiting and destroying rivers.
“I also told them that if we have a river policy, it needs to be about making India drought and flood free. I told them that this cannot be done by linking rivers. We should link minds and hearts of Indian people with rivers instead,” he said, “If the baba can link people with rivers, they can be rejuvenated. Not by anything else.”
Rajendra also expressed his views about the futility of a missed call campaign, tree plantation and interlinking in reviving and rejuvenating Indian rivers.
“You need to make the flow of the river slower, and not use dams to stop it altogether. Once it’s slowed, it prevents erosion in the upper riparian areas, and silting in lower ones. Stopping erosion and silting is what rejuvenates rivers and gets it flowing again, not tree plantation,” Rajendra said. He alleges that he told all these things clearly to Sadhguru and his team.
“Nothing will happen with missed calls and slogans to revive rivers, I told him (Sadhguru) strictly. But Baba is Baba. Baba will revive river with missed call,” he added with sarcasm, “I can tell you today, I am never a supporter of rally of rivers (sic).”
The video and misrepresentation of views
That Rajendra is a staunch critic of interlinking rivers is well known. The video that Isha Foundation put out in September this year, however, seemed to imply that he had changed his position. Soon after the video was published, the water conservationist told Nityanand Jayaraman for The Wire that his views had been misrepresented.
He had heard that the campaign's call to people to save rivers was being received positively, following which he decided to support the initiative. Though he did mention that the central government was planning to interlink rivers, his views against such a project had been edited out, he stated.
"In my interview, I said that interlinking of rivers is highly dangerous. It will not join India. It will not make India. It will break India. I had said that it will not protect us either from drought or floods, and that the project will only escalate conflict within the country," he said.
Calling the assumptions baseless, a volunteer for Isha Foundation said the video had not been edited.
While the Foundation has not openly voiced its support for river interlinking, a project questioned by many experts, it has spoken about revitalising rivers through measures which, while, different from river interlinking, do not specifically rule it out.
"The 'Rally for Rivers' initiative is about revitalizing rivers and augmenting the flow of water in them. This focus on actually augmenting water supply is therefore qualitatively different from other measures, including river linking, that seek to utilize the currently available water supply," Sadhguru said.
The politician-godmen nexus
Hitting back at Rally for Rivers further, Rajendra then argued, “I can say this now after three months - this ‘Rally for Rivers’, is not for rivers. It is for the land, for money, for power, for fame and for name. What can they get out of this rally – that’s what this is about.”
Rajendra talked about the nexus between godmen and politicians and how it was dangerous. “When politicians want to get votes by showcasing the issue of rivers, they push the babas in front. And when the baba feels threatened of being sent to jail for taking over 45 acres of tribals' land - then he chases the politicians, asking them for protection,” he alleged.
Pointing out how four godmen had been brought to book in the last two years (Jagat Guru Rampal, Ram Rahim, Falahari Baba and Asaram Bapu), Rajendra appealed, “When godmen are afraid of going to prison and politicians are greedy for votes, such a nexus is born, and it is dangerous. Don’t let this nexus to be formed in the name of rivers. It will prove to be dangerous for the country.”