IN HIS LONG dark kurta, flowing white beard and mundu, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, sitting by the glass wall of a house in central Delhi, flips through Raghu Rai’s picture book on him, recalling the captured moments. His day is lined up with a series of meetings and media interactions before he flies back to Coimbatore. There’s a sudden spurt of activity, as a Union minister walks in with a bouquet of white flowers to seek his blessings. The meeting goes on beyond the expected time, disrupting his tight schedule.
What has brought him to Delhi is his month-long ‘rally for rivers’ from Kanyakumari to the foothills of the Himalayas, starting on September 3rd, to create public awareness about the depletion of rivers. By now, he is familiar with the questions. He reels off answers to queries ranging from the role of spiritual leaders to censorship, deviating from the conventional but confining them to the realm of the politically acceptable.
For the rally, he is going to drive an SUV, in a cavalcade of around 20 vehicles, through 16 states for encouraging tree cover—forest trees on government land and fruit trees on farm land—up to 1 km on either side of rivers. This will ensure that moisture in the soil and air feeds the rivers. It will also hopefully translate into people’s support for a long-term draft policy which will in turn encourage the Centre and states to implement it. Of the 20,000 km of rivers, 25-26 per cent of the land along them is owned by governments.
“In the last six to seven years, the depletion of rivers has been so sharp, it’s alarming. In the last four years, I thought we need to do something. Today we have a draft policy recommendation addressing all stakeholders. The first is the river itself. Then it’s farmers, community, government,” says Vasudev.
Rivers being a concurrent subject, any policy would require the Centre and state to concur. “Every major river has an active water dispute with states. We are fighting about how to use the river, not about how to preserve or revive the river. Even if we go aggressive, it will take 10-15 years in implementing the policy, which will increase farmers’ income multi-fold in three years. It will take another 5-10 years to see actual rise in the river flows so it will be 20-25 years [for] actual results on the ground,” he says.
Encouraged by support from various quarters, he is hoping to get the backing of the people to get the policy through. At the end of the rally on October 2nd, he plans to present the draft policy—made in partnership with the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and Roorkee Institute of Hydrology and with inputs from scientists—to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I don’t know how we can close our eyes to 300,000 farmers committing suicide in 12 years. Even a war does not kill so many people. People are asking me, ‘Will one kilometre on either side solve the problem?’ No. But this is a first step. There are two aspects—augmenting flow, which we are trying to do, and better usage of water, which we have to get to our farmers. We are growing the wrong crops. Instead of looking at it scientifically, we are looking at it emotionally. If we don’t manage our water properly, by 2030 we will have only 50 per cent of the water required for our survival,” says Vasudev.
Having grown up as an agnostic and a Communist, Vasudev says he was the last person to have believed in spiritualism but a spiritual experience one afternoon on Chamundi Hill in Mysuru changed everything. Asked if he saw an increasing disenchantment with godmen, given the recent cases like that of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, he says, “Bad apples are there in every sphere of life, and very unfortunately, the spiritual sphere of India has seen more than its share. But, there are many doing fabulous work.”
According to him, spiritual leaders could play a positive role in politics. “I wish there was much more interaction between spiritual leaders and politicians. This has been the ethos of this nation right from ancient times when kings had their raj gurus, somebody who will advise them beyond prejudice, political ambitions and things that rule a political establishment. There was always a wise person advising them so that in some way they manage and transcend that aspect. I wish such advice was there not just for our political leaders, but the entire world. Wouldn’t you wish that for the other large democracies in the world as well?” he asks.
Vasudev describes Narendra Modi as one of the most committed leaders in the world. “He is not corrupt. There is a tremendous determination and commitment about taking the country to a different place. I have spoken to many world leaders and I must say I am very impressed by his understanding of things. It’s not easy to manage this nation, but we can be confident that we have a determined leadership.”
Did he advise Modi on having a raj guru? Sadhguru laughs, saying it would have seemed like he was seeking a job.
What next after the rally for rivers? One thing at a time, he says. In the lobby, he already has another visitor waiting to see him.