Sadhguru: What’s wrong with actors and celebrities supporting us?
Spiritual leader, author and NGO Isha Foundation’s Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev was recently in the city, right amid the buzz his environment initiative, Cauvery Calling has generated - both among supporters and dissenters. Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent tweet backing the campaign put it in international spotlight, and led to strong voices from both sides. We got Sadhguru to answer, and he was candid.
Q. There is increasing resistance to Isha Foundation’s environmental initiative on the issue of tree plantation…
A. This kind of resistance always comes from the usual suspects. Somebody files a PIL, without any basis. Even what they are listing as problems, none of them is even relevant. They are saying we’re planting trees on public land. (The initiative aims to plant 242 crore trees and revitalize river Cauvery). First of all, we are not planting a single tree, it is the farmer planting them in his land. Let me make it very clear, this is not a tree planting programme, this is about agroforestry. It is about changing India’s agricultural practice. Why we need to change this is — it’s not even about water, this is about soil. Indian soil is dying without organic content. If you have to put organic content back into soil, there are only two ways — leaves of trees, and animal waste. Trees have gone long time ago — 92% of the tree cover on Ganga basin is gone, and 87% in Cauvery has gone. Animals are going, they’ve become foreign travellers, they all are going out of the country. So, without these two elements how will you enrich the soil?
Q. Did you expect the kind of support you are getting, considering that the campaign is barely two months old, and what is your primary aim?
A. We knew that we’ll get this much response and more will come. The unprecedented response in UN agencies, all agencies across United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), we got the accreditation for that and all the other aspects, everybody gave 100% response. Both the governments, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have come out in full force. I thought the biggest hurdle to cross would be getting the government policy done, but we got it done effortlessly with Rally for Rivers. And the NITI Aayog sent this to all 29 states as an official recommendation, and since then the state governments have been primed towards this. Government is providing financial subsidy, but we want to convert sampling production into a very lucrative business for the farmers. We want to train anywhere between 5,000-10,000 farmers. Right now, commercial agencies are doing it. Instead of that, if the farmers plant trees, they themselves can benefit, especially the rural women. In their backyard, they can grow 5,000 saplings effortlessly.
So we are in the process of preparing for meeting all the political representatives from Cauvery base individually. We plan to meet all MLAs, panchayat leaders, collectors, all responsible people and influencers in the area, and activate them as individual constituencies. So, in their area to start with, we want 500 farmers to convert into agroforestry.
Q. Your model involves corporates and individuals paying money to plant saplings. Is that a reason for contention?
A. See, the famer is not paying anything for the saplings. But to produce a healthy sapling there is a cost. Somebody has to bear it. So now I will ask the government to bear it. You must understand that we live in a country where only 3.2% of the population pays income tax. You think the government is there to do everything that needs to happen? Especially, you think that the government is capable of investing big into something that will take 12-15 years to yield results for them? They have many immediate concerns on a daily basis. So, why is it that as a democratic country citizens of this nation cannot respond? I am asking what is our population? 130 crores? If each one was to plant one plant today, then one-two years later, what would be the number? I found out that many beggars in Chennai are earning 3-4 lakhs rupees per year. So I am contacting all the beggars in Bengaluru and Chennai who are earning enough and telling them to contribute one sapling per week. If a beggar is contributing one sapling per week, all the people in this country should also contribute.
Q. Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio recently tweeted in support of your initiative, and that has led to a coalition of NGOs and civil society groups writing to him, expressing concern at his stance. What’s your reaction?
A. See, the thing is they are not even environmentalists. Some of them have joined those who call themselves environmentalists. What have they done except protesting and filing cases on people? By filing cases, will rivers flow? By protesting on the streets, will rivers flow? Right now they got together only because of Leonardo DiCaprio. So they think their source of funding would dry up and it’ll come to Cauvery calling. That’s where the problem is. They did not mind when Tamil Nadu government and Karnataka government came together. The moment DiCaprio came, now they think from where funds are coming to them, it may go to Cauvery. That’s their only concern. For anybody who says a negative word about Cauvery, I understand their mindset… it’s just their toxicity of their mind. To neutralise it, I will plant 10 trees for each one of them. Those 95 people who are protesting now, I just have to plant 950 trees for them. I will do it joyfully.
Q. Do you think the protests would affect the support of international influencers such as Leonardo DiCaprio, as they could be vulnerable to criticism?
A. They know this, which is why these people have gotten together because now they will criticise on all the forums. Every university I go to speak in the world, they will ask — it seems you are destroying everything by planting trees. But it’s not going to stop us from doing whatever we are doing.
Q. Critics also point out the support from pop culture icons such as film stars or sports personalities to publicise your cause. Recently, actors Kangana Ranaut and Juhi Chawla were seen promoting your initiatives…
A. What’s wrong with them? People trivialise it because they think they are holier than thou. They have done nothing in their life except criticise. People think they are sitting in a superior chair. Whether it’s an actor or a sportsperson, there is a huge following. They are iconic and inspirational for millions of people. So if they don’t speak, I think it’s irresponsible. They have all come forward, across the board. They have not only spoken, each one of them has committed money to it as well. Why is an actor or an actress not considered serious? You go to them to watch entertainment, right? She can act, dance or sing, so just because of that do you think she has no opinion of her own? I’ll like to recall what John Sibelius once said, “Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in the honour of a critic.”
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