Abhishek G Bhaya
The so-called ‘champions of nationalism’ were rather swift in dubbing him as anti-national when he shared in public a conversation with his wife about their concerns over the rising intolerance in the country. So much so, one of them filed a sedition case against him in Kanpur for his alleged ‘anti-national’ statement.
These ‘patriotic bigots’ stripped him down to only his religious identity and accused him of ‘love jihad’ for marrying a Hindu woman and threatened to pack him off to Pakistan unless he does a ‘ghar wapasi’. They also called for boycotting his projects with a clear intention of hurting him financially.
The ‘rightwing jingbang’, prodded by their political masters in the government and the ruling party, ran a vicious campaign on social media which saw the central government dislodge him unceremoniously from being the face of the Incredible India campaign.
You must have guessed that we are talking about Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who, rather ironically, has carved a reputation of being one of the most credible people around.
So while the silly ultra-nationalist brigade and their patrons were busy screaming and shouting and abusing everyone who had an independent voice and who disagreed with the right-wing politics – including Aamir Khan, his colleague Shah Rukh Khan; political opponents such as Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and leaders from the Left parties; student activists like Rohith Vemula, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid; independent journalists like Siddhartha Varadarajan, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt and the list goes on – and branding all of them ‘anti-nationals’, the Bollywood actor was going about addressing one of the most fundamental problems faced by a large part of India.
In mid-February, Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao launched Paani Foundation, a not-for-profit company with an objective to bring about a change in the outlook about water conservation. Khan’s ex-wife Reena Khanna is also involved with the project as its COO. Also extending support to Aamir is PK director Rajkumar Hirani who is in on the projects with Aamir from the beginning, along with Kumarmangalam Birla and Mukesh Ambani. The advisory board of the Paani Foundation also includes Sachin Tendulkar, Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani.
The initiative, which took shape in the previous ten months including the period when Aamir was facing the unwarranted and unreasonable rightwing backlash, gains more significance amid the current water crisis in Maharashtra, which is being described as the worst in decades.
Aamir Khan has been quick to respond to the calamity by adopting two villages, Tal and Koregaon, in the drought-hit state. As part of Paani Foundation’s initiative, the actor is also touring the other drought-affected areas of Maharashtra and teaching villagers the techniques on water conservation.
Aamir had earlier adopted a village in Bhuj in Gujarat, which was devastated by earthquakes in 2001.
Aamir also wants to encourage his friends and colleagues from Bollywood and also other celebrities to join him in the water movement, and become water mentors. “People want a positive change and there’s no problem that can’t be solved by coming together,” he said.
Several Bollywood celebrities and actors from the Marathi film industry have already joined Aamir in his new initiative. Those joining Aamir in his ongoing awareness tours in Maharashtra include actors Saif Ali Khan, Kangana Ranaut, Riteish Deshmukh, Sunny Leone, Reema Lagoo, Sai Tamhankar, Atul Kulkarni and filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani.
At the launch of Paani Foundation, Aamir had said: “We were involved with various social issues for five years through the three seasons of Satyamev Jayate (a TV series with a focus on social causes). We then decided to focus on one problem in Maharashtra which is my janmabhoomi and karmabhoomi, [birthplace and workplace].”
Making a clear distinction between Paani and other NGOs working in the field, Aamir said: “Other NGOs are investing in structures, while we will invest in people.”
The foundation’s first step, he said, was the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup, a water management competition between villages.
As part of the Water Cup contest, selected candidates from participating villages will be trained on-field in villages that have successfully carried out watershed management. The villages will be helped to prepare a water plan and budget, and to access funds and government and technical help.
Contesting villages will then be evaluated by experts on their watershed management and conservation efforts. The first prize will be Rs 50 lakh, second Rs 30 lakh and the third for Rs 20 lakh.
Patekar, Akshay do their bit
Another Bollywood actor, Nana Patekar has been actively engaging with the residents and farmers of the drought-hit region and working towards their relief. Patekar along with actor Makrand Anaspure have started NAAM Foundation that has generated funds worth crores of rupees for the cause. They recently distributed financial help to 113 families in Latur and Osmanabad.
“A massive migration is taking place to cities. And I want to tell everyone: if someone knocks at your car window, don’t treat them like beggars. They are farmers,” Patekar made a passionate appear recently. “They are helpless. They need food, water and access to toilets. Let’s take responsibility for one person each. It’s not hard,” he added.
“It is a crime to be silent. Are we blind that we cannot see people are dying? If they are not our people whose are they then?” he said.
Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has also donated Rs 50 lakh for the Maharashtra water crisis.
Rightwingers and their ‘shallow nationalism’
Contrast the efforts of these Bollywood actors, including the one who has been branded ‘anti-national’ with the way the very political class and their rightwing henchmen that issues ‘certificates of nationalism’ these days have reacted to the crisis.
Where are the self-proclaimed nationalists like Anupam Kher, Madhur Bhandarker, Abhijeet and Ashoke Pandit? Aren’t they considering leading a ‘Water March’, or do they consider talking about water crisis as an anti-national activity as well?
What about the other rightwing jingbang – Baba Ramdev, Chetan Bhagat, and their ideological siblings? Don’t they consider it to be a ’nationalistic’ duty to contribute in a major crisis affecting the country?
The silence from this vociferous group is a clear indication that they are guilty of exploiting the emotion of nationalism only when it suits to promote their political and ideological interests. These practitioners of shallow nationalism are least interested in the nation and its people.
Shameful conduct of ministers
While the efforts of Modi government to deliver water by train to Latur must be lauded, the same cannot be said about the way it is being implemented – we have seen photos of BJP members pasting party posters on the train tankers. Railway belongs to the government. No party, even the one that is in power, shall be allowed to politicise the efforts being undertaken by the Ministry of Railway under the Central government.
The lesser we talk about the shameful conduct of Maharashtra’s ministers the better. We have witnessed how 10,000 litres of water was wasted in washing the helipad of Eknath Khadse, the state’s Minister of Revenue, Agriculture, Excise and Minority Affairs in a glaringly display of utter insensitivity, before he went on a stock-taking tour of Latur and other drought-hit districts.
As if that wasn’t enough, another Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde was seen indulging in ‘drought tourism’ by taking selfies in the affected regions and proudly posting them on social media. Ironically, Munde is the state’s Water Conservation Minister. Her adventurism saw her skip a key meeting on the crisis on Monday as, according to one of her aide, “she had developed severe headache after being constantly exposed to blazing sun and heat in Latur.”
Foolhardy to reject Kejriwal’s offer
I will again reiterate that Modi government, and particularly the Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu, has been immensely resourceful while coming up with the plan to deliver water to drought-hit Latur by train.
However, in the same vein, one must also welcome Delhi government’s offer to contribute 10 lakh litres water daily to the drought-hit region. Delhi, in this regard, has set an example for the rest of the states to follow.
At a time, when all such efforts to provide water to the affected people should be welcomed and appreciated, Maharashtra government’s rejection of a humanitarian offer by another state just because it is run by a political rival is foolhardy.
There’s no contradiction in praising good efforts by both, the central and the state governments, irrespective of one’s political leanings. We must refrain from looking at everything through the political prism.
In any case, even if Arvind Kejriwal’s decision is a political move, I have no trouble welcoming it if at the end of the day, it eventually benefits lakhs of people. Politics that ends up serving people is any day better than the other variety that ends up dividing people on the lines of caste, creed and religion.
Also, those who are outraged over giving away 10 lakh litres water every day must know that the Delhi Jal Board supplies 340Cr litres of water daily. You are smart. You can do the maths.
It’s up to the readers to decide who are working for the nation, and who are dividing our societies.
(The author is a Gulf-based Indian journalist. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of JantaKaReporter)