Well into his seventies, the veteran of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Kushabhau Thakre recently took office as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now heading the coalition government, the BJP has made a broad-brush reference to the environment in its manifesto. Rajat Banerji met Thakre to discuss the key issue of water
How do you propose to address the issue of drinking water now that your party is in power?
The question is not just how we can address the issue. We should consider why we have such a situation. Earlier, no one bothered about water as it was easily available. It is only now after water has become scarce that the issue has become a debate and there is talk of conservation. Politicians are not experts on such issues. It is not right to expect political parties to offer solutions.
The BJP has a philosophy on several contentious issues. Is there any philosophy on issues such as water conservation?
While we believe that political decisions can be taken, knowledge has to come from experts. Let them tell us what to do and we will do it. Don't expect everything from politicians.
Has the BJP consulted such experts?
We want experts to inform us. We have advisors, but not for all issues.
Have these advisors recommended anything specific with regard to water issues?
We do not have anything specific; in terms of water table etc., but we do know that water needs to be conserved.
What do you think of the on-going programmes such as the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) started by Rajiv Gandhi, and the Yamuna Action Plan? Are you satisfied with the way they are progressing?
Our opinion is that rivers should be clean. A political party's thinking reflects the thinking of the common man. The common man wants clean water, not pollution. He looks for jobs and the industry provides employment. At times, some industries might cause pollution. When one talks about water, one forgets about other issues. Often, thinking is one-sided. The complete picture must be kept in mind while addressing such issues.
The question was: is the BJP satisfied with river cleaning projects such as the GAP?
Whatever be the question, don't expect everything from political parties.
Often it has been seen that political pressure can override an expert's opinion.
It is a fashion of sorts to blame politicians for all the ills of the society. That is incorrect. We believe only experts can offer solutions. Yet, experts can also be one-sided, lacking in perspective. They only look into the matter of the river and how much water there should be in the river. They fail to take into consideration other issues such as irrigation requirements, the needs of the industry and the rural people.
But even when experts offer solutions they are disregarded.
That is not so. There have been programmes which have been adopted by the political parties. I don't know details of the gap . But I know that there is an integrated plan which takes into account the needs of the industry as well. Utopian thinking will not do. If you give practical solutions to the politician, he will adopt them. The bjp has no problem in adopting solutions. But solutions should take into account all aspects. For example, if you want to relocate an industry, consider all aspects. Who will bear the cost of shifting? Who will bear the cost of the land? The Supreme Court may pass an order. But, where will the people go? Are there any details in the court order? Wishful thinking cannot solve problems. I will put the onus on experts.
In that vein, has there been any planning as far as Indian rivers go?
There have to be solutions. Experts must show us the way. We can only reflect the common man's concerns.
Would not water be a more important need to the common man, than say a temple?
This is political jingoism. Because we took up the issue of a temple, and not water, you are connecting the two. This makes no sense. If you are interested in water, talk about water. You have something in mind so you are connecting the two. You are talking more like a politician than an expert. You want to abuse some people. You are not interested in solving the water problem, but in abusing some political parties. Why are you concerned about other things? Your question shows a bias.
In terms of priority, where does water stand?
All issues are connected and cannot be separately dealt with. There should be planning which should incorporate all issues. Experts have a habit of thinking of only one issue at a time. If you only think about water, I don't think you will come to a correct conclusion.
The state of water supplies in India is almost desperate. Worldwide it has been acknowledged that the future wars could be over water. What do you have to say in such a situation?
If there was total thinking and proper planning, such a situation will not arise.
Why is there no long term thinking?
There is reflection on this in our manifesto. All political parties have the same stance on environmental issues. You must take all issues into account and come up with solutions. There are several agencies which have to do just this. What is the Planning Commission there for?