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Water crisis, Amitabh Bachchan and Bharat Mata Ki Jai

Last updated on: April 05, 2016 12:12 IST

Devendra Fadnavis

IMAGE: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his wife, banker Amruta Fadnavis.

Maharashtra faces an unprecedented water crisis, and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is only concerned about who is not chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai, says Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

In 1998, I was living in Mira Road on the outskirts of Mumbai, an area which had an acute shortage of water.

The water tanker mafia ruled the area and there was little you could do. The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party then ruled Maharashtra but like its predecessor governments it too failed miserably to keep the tanker mafia in check.

Many a time I would carry a plastic can and go to the nearest tap just to get five litres of drinking water as the tanker mafia had not turned up that day.

What intrigued me then was, while we the children of a lesser God got no regular water supply, just three kilometres away in Mumbai city, there was no tanker mafia or water shortage.

The residents of Mumbai received regular water supply. Many buildings had 24 hours water supply, but here we were, running from pillar to post every day to get some clean water.

Have things changed since in Mira Road? I don't know. But some things have not changed.

When I heard the chief minister of Maharashtra stating that those who don't say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' had no right to stay in the country, I wondered if this was the priority of a chief minister whose citizens are dying of thirst.

Maharashtra is facing an unprecedented water crisis and all that Devendra Fadnavis is concerned about is who is not chanting slogans like 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai.'

If you thought the Congress party was any better, think again.

Congress MLA Amit Deshmukh, the late Congress chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's son, decided to hold a cricket tournament in Latur amidst the drought.

Latur is in Marathwada district, one of the worst drought-affected districts in the country. So bad is the drought that Indian Railways has had to step in to supply water to the district.

But when the citizens of Latur craved water, their elected MLA was watering his cricket pitch. Even the Roman emperor Nero could not have done better.

One report stated Deshmukh expended 2,500 litres of water on the cricket pitch which drew an immediate clarification from local Congress leaders that only seven buckets of water were used.

So the difference was in scale, not in the thinking. Even seven buckets of water wasted when people are not getting drinking water is not acceptable. Is this not an insult to Bharat Mata's children who are dying of thirst?

Last heard, after the protests, Deshmukh cancelled his cricket tournament.

I have never understood why politicians want to outdo each other in the patriotism stakes when the least they can do is provide a glass of clean drinking water to the common man.

When I visited Pokhran in 1998 after the Vajpayee government's nuclear tests, I saw children standing on the roadside, waving empty bottles at cars passing by.

I asked the driver what they were doing and his answer shocked me. He said there was no water to drink in Pokhran district and therefore the children of nearby villages walked to the main road to beg for water.

I wondered what was more important to Bharat Mata. To save her children dying of thirst or a nuclear test on which billions of rupees were spent in the name of national security? Couldn't that money have been better utilised to quench the thirst of Bharat Mata's children?

But since this was a question of national security, nobody dares to raise such questions what with the 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' crowd ready to pack you off to a neighbouring country.

While trying to recall if a Bollywood movie had depicted the water crisis, I thought of the 1989 Amitabh Bachchan film, Main Azad Hoon.

In it the chief minister tells a union leader (Bachchan) that he must persuade the workers to get back to work as the government was losing revenue, and due to the revenue loss the government was unable to expand its welfare schemes.

Bachchan's character replies that the money meant for welfare schemes for the poor are swindled away by middlemen, and what do the poor get? So it does not matter whether the strike is on or not.

'People like you can only see bad things about our system,' the chief minister responds angrily and says the common man is as responsible for corruption as politicians.

Bachchan then explodes. 'You have made the system in such a way that if you don't bribe, you will not get a ration card. If you don't bribe, you won't get admission in good colleges. You politicians have thrown the poor man to the wolves and now you are saying we encourage corruption.'

He then taunts the CM that for so many years politicians have not done anything, and now the common man has understood that he has to fight his own battle.

You could not give two square meals to Indians in the last 40 years but that doesn't matter,' he says. 'In the last 40 years you could not clothe every Indian, that doesn't matter. In 40 years you could not make homes for the poor, that doesn't matter. In 40 years you could not give medicines, employment and education, that doesn't matter.'

Bachchan then takes out a bottle of dirty water and bangs in front of the chief minister. He pours water from the bottle into a glass and tells the chief minister that he got that from a village and it is poison.

'In 40 years if you cannot give your citizens a glass of water, then what can you give them?' Bachchan asks. 'You have no right to sit on the chair. Vacate it or else the people will soon come and throw you out.'

Devendra Fadnavis would do well to ponder over Big B's words. Bharat Mata's children would prefer a glass of clean drinking water first.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com