‘Liberal’ tears cannot end the drought

by V Anantha Nageswaran - Apr 17, 2016 12:54 PM +05:30 IST
‘Liberal’ tears cannot end the droughtDrought in Maharashtra (Photo: Getty)
  • Water is an emotionally charged subject and people are capable of and are willing to engage in shrill and cringe-worthy rhetoric.

This story from ‘Revealnews’ cites leaked cables from US embassies in West Asian capitals to show the developing concern about water shortages and their role in bringing about social instability and collapse of civil society. Water, or the lack thereof, has played a critical role in the refugee crisis that arose out of Syria.

The article lists three major factors behind water emerging as a big issue around the world: global warming, population growth and meat eating. But, Brahma Chellaney, in a piece written ten months ago, has marshalled a lot of facts to show that eating meat contributes in a very big way to global warming, to grain shortages and to water stress.

Indeed, all those who organised ‘beef-fest’ against the Indian government or State governments and wrote copious edits on their right to eat beef should be very embarrassed about their liberal/environmental credentials, if they had any. In essence, they were defending their right to ruin the world. That is some liberalism.

Of course, now that the right to eat beef, and the right to contribute to global warming, and starve the vegetarians of water has been successfully defended, it is time for the ‘liberals’ to find another topic to take up cudgels against the State. They have spotted it, and it is water.

This page, first created in 2011 and then modified in 2015, is a good place to start to discuss and debate with facts on the subject of water. Water is an emotionally charged subject and people are capable of and are willing to engage in shrill and cringe-worthy rhetoric.

Some examples:

“Even as millions go thirsty, activist Palagummi Sainath, who has spent much of the past three decades writing about rural poverty, points to real estate companies enticing property buyers with high-rise buildings in Mumbai that boast a swimming pool on every floor. Urban areas in Maharashtra get 400 % more drinking water than rural areas, he said.”

“People have to decide if availability of drinking water is a human right,” Sainath said [Link]

Here is another needlessly provocative framing of issues:

“The cricket-crazy are equally, if not more, to blame. They must have their fun, come rain come sun. The Great Indian Middle Class does not realise that its on-screen sportoxication is, in times like these, complicit in a great wrong. This complicity by the urban Indian middle classes in its own exploitation would not be half as gross if it were not happening in a drought….

… And our only cricket Bharat Ratna, a Member of Parliament as well, Mr. Tendulkar, has an opportunity now to dazzle the nation by saying cricket is his life but there are lives beyond his own that are no less important and that no water, ‘fresh’ or recycled from sewage, must be used by money to spin more money at a time like this. That would recycle a sewage world of opportunisms, greed and worse….

… The use, misuse and abuse of water in the Maharashtra IPL matter is not about water. It even goes beyond money to our priorities as a nation.” [Link]

In the past, I have written about the Indian Premier League and its malefic influence, myself. India’s inability to perform well in the longer versions of the game are due to the relative unimportance of batting technique and skill in this version of the game. Of course, this is an argument and that is different from a conclusion. A batsman like Rahul Dravid and a thoughtful person at that, may have a different view. That should carry more weight than mine.

Perhaps, the crass commercialism, the murky ways in which the teams were funded and sponsored by not-so-clean characters were, perhaps, more important factors to shun IPL than the cricket itself.

Of course, on the positive side of the ledger, it is also true that IPL has created many copycat leagues in other sports like Field Hockey, Kabaddi and Badminton. They are good for the sporting culture in the country, good for the sportsmen and women, good for youngsters and good for fitness levels and consciousness.

Indeed, even in cricket, thanks to IPL, many youngsters who would, otherwise not have had a look-in, get opportunities to transform their lives and to serve as role models in their communities, villages and towns.

All that being said, there is no need for a conflation of issues as Gopalkrishna Gandhi (GG) had done. I can be a middle-class member of India who is as concerned about water as he is, I can contribute to rainwater harvesting initiatives with money, with harvesting water myself and yet be keen to immerse myself in a 3-hour mindless entertainment through IPL after a long and demanding day at work in the Indian summer. The life of an average middle-class Indian commuting to work on a daily basis is really no fun and this is what Gandhi’s grandson had to say about them:

The Great Indian Middle Class does not realise that its on-screen sportoxication is, in times like these, complicit in a great wrong. This complicity by the urban Indian middle classes in its own exploitation would not be half as gross if it were not happening in a drought…. [Link]

I am stumped for an answer. It is really cringing to paint things in such needlessly stark and guilt-laden terms. Willingness to enjoy IPL (which I don’t) and being conscious of water and drought are not mutually exclusive. A big country with 1.21 billion people and extreme weather patterns will always have natural disasters occurring. They need to be tackled; the human element has to be kept in mind but other aspects of life need not stop. Rahul Dravid is correct to state that if not playing IPL 2016 would solve India’s drought problems, then India should stop playing cricket.

Even as GG strains too hard to condemn his fellow Indians to live the rest of their lives with a guilt-soaked conscience for supporting the IPL cricket league in 2016, Surjit Bhalla provides some perspective with numbers on the use of water in cricket matches and the water that Maharashtra needs.

There is a need for sensitivity, no doubt, as Ayaz Menon points out very well here. BCCI has tripped and its culture of lack of accountability has clearly played a part in sentiments being whipped up against the IPL tournament. But, GG goes way over the top.

Of course, how can one forget the Indian courts? Let me just state that governments should not be a mute spectator to drought. It is not a job for judicial courts. Also, it is hard to resist asking the question as to why the courts were a mute spectator to India’s per capita water availability going down from 5200 m3 of the year 1951 to 1588 m3 in the year 2010.

However, I could not have written better than R. Jagannathan on judicial hyper-activism in the country. Therefore, I am going to simply link to his article in ‘Swarajya’ and leave it at that. The President of India’s words of caution against judicial activism has not come a day too soon. Governance by proxy by courts is arguably the most serious threat to Indian democracy than anything else.

To conclude on the topic we began, after a brief detour into judicial detours, it is definitely worth pondering over if the matter of IPL matches being staged in Maharashtra would have garnered the attention it did, had it been ruled by a non-BJP political party.

India’s pseudo-intellectuals have found another issue to debate in their usual fact-free style and to divide the country. That is every bit as tragic as the travails of the people affected by the drought are heart-rending.

V. Anantha Nageswaran has jointly authored, ‘Can India grow?’ and ‘The Rise of Finance:Causes, Consequences and Cures’

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