Isha Foundation’s ‘Cauvery Calling’ is an extension of its ‘Rally For Rivers’ from some years ago. Then too, actors held placards. Then too Jaggi Vasudev went on a rally. Then too, they collected funds. They were even included in the Maharashtra State Government’s Waghari River Rejuvenation Programme (Rs 415 crores were set aside for this purpose) despite opposition from environmentalists that Jaggi’s ideas for India’s rivers are too simplistic. Isha claims that Cauvery Calling “will support lakhs of farmers in the Cauvery basin to plant 242 crore trees in an economic plan that is expected to revive not just the river but the fortunes of farmers in the basin as well.”
One private organisation making unilateral decisions on behalf of people who live around the Cauvery basin, and then collecting funds from the public for the same has raised a lot of eyebrows and some pressing legal questions. Especially, considering the fact that the outcome of the previous edition of Rally For Rivers is, at best, opaque.
Several stars have participated in Isha’s Cauvery Calling campaign — Juhi Chawla, Vidya Balan, Nithya Menen, Raveena Tandon, Shah Rukh Khan, Rakshit Shetty, Kajal Aggarwal, Kangana Ranaut and Tamannaah Bhatia, among others. Even Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s parents have extended support.
In fact, Kangana, Tamannaah and Kajal (the latter two are acting in remakes of Queen that originally starred Kangana in Hindi. They will be seen in the Tamil and Telugu versions) have even done a ‘Three Queens Support’ video, promoting at once the films and the campaign. All the star requests are the same, asking people to donate money, 42 rupees at that, per tree, so Isha can plant trees around the Cauvery. Some have even told their followers that they have pledged to donate a lakh trees, and so, can their followers please help?
How did the foundation pull off such a huge campaign, making so many bigwigs work for it? By finding an influencer. Several film PROs who Silverscreen spoke to, off the record, said that the Isha Foundation got in touch with them and asked them to round up some celebrities for the job. One PRO who has handled some of the biggest names in the South said, “I was not very impressed with what they said they were going to do, and so, I backed out. Despite that fact that no PROs from the industry is working with them, they have managed to get publicity and rope in celebrities. They’ve done this by finding an influencer who is a part of the industry.”
Speaking to Silverscreen, a famous Chennai-based actor, said, “I was asked but did not take part in the campaign, because I am still unsure what they did with the Rally for Rivers. I am wary about the entire programme of planting trees along the course of the Cauvery. I am a little suspect about the reputation of the person leading the campaign, the work he has done at his ashram, and the ecological damage there. So, I stayed away.” Another actor chipped in, “I was told to shoot a video supporting the cause, but was not very comfortable doing that. It gets very embarrassing when someone you respect in the industry asks you to do something, but you can’t because your heart is not in it.”
The bulk of the support from the North is being spearheaded by Kangana and her sister and manager Rangoli Chandel, who has been incessantly tweeting about the campaign and retweeting tweets about donations. In fact, Jaggi is in Kashi, and the latest photos show him with Kangana and Juhi at a temple, and later with Kangana, where she is purportedly asking him questions. Not one of them has asked a single question about what happened to Rally For Rivers.
Even earlier, Isha has put out videos in which really big stars ‘interview’ Jaggi Vasudev. Several of them, including a big Telugu actor, sources told us, were approached by people who personally knew the celebs and were followers of Isha Foundation. The common acquaintances took the idea forward to actors on behalf of Isha, offering it as a win-win situation for both parties. There were no conclusive details on whether any money was involved, and so Silverscreen is not speculating on the monetary aspect of this mammoth public relations project.
In response, The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India has written to DiCaprio asking him to withdraw his support. The statement read, “The ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign is not a programme that comprehends the river basin’s realities, and her future well being. It appears to be a programme that presents, rather simplistically, that the river can be saved by planting trees on banks of her streams, rivulets, tributaries and the floodplains of the river. Planting trees is welcome, but only when it is done where needed, and by choosing appropriate species. It is a process that is best done consultatively, based on local needs, and sensitive to local ecological dynamics… The tree planting promoted by Isha Foundation, by inviting people to donate money to plant 2,420,000,000 trees, may appear incredibly attractive. But, on deeper investigation, it comes across as a method that promotes a monoculturist paradigm of landscape restoration, which people of India have rejected long ago. Besides, such a programme could create unintended and unforeseen social and ecological consequences, as planting trees in certain regions (grasslands and floodplains for instance) could result in the drying up of streams and rivulets, and destruction of wildlife habitats. Further, it can also lead to encroachments of the floodplains and riverbeds, as has happened at numerous places.”
The statement also said that “Isha Foundation has very low credibility in conforming with Indian laws protecting human rights and environment. No less an authority than the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, a constitutional body, has reported that the foundation has built its headquarters into an elephant corridor and on land belonging to Adivasis (original inhabitants of India, who are indigenous communities).”
It also highlighted that the ‘Waterman of India’ Rajendra Singh has remarked that Jaggi Vasudev’s ‘Cauvery Calling’ is a campaign “just to earn name and money”.
Whether any of the celebrities and public personalities that have endorsed this campaign understand the complexities of environmental issues in the country is anyone’s guess. Perhaps, everyone was swayed by the promise that ‘This is not a protest. This is not an agitation.‘
Main image courtesy: isha.sadhguru.in