Special to The Sunday Times
Parched stretches of India - weather gods or
government to blame?
By Sidharth Bhatia
Parts of western India are chronically dry and
the people have become inured to living a cruel existence. Partly due to
inherent geographical conditions and mainly because of poor water distribution,
the people of Gujarat and Rajasthan, to name two states, are perpetually
short of that precious commodity, water. In the vast desert stretches of
Rajasthan, entire communities move all the time in search of water during
the summer. So in that sense, what is happening in Indian villages is nothing
new and has been going on for decades, even centuries.
But that does not in any way lessen the ugly reality that vast numbers
of Indians are without access to clean drinking water and even five decades
after independence from British colonial rule, the basics have not been
provided for. Year after year, officialdom puts in place grand plans to
improve water distribution but that has not made an iota of difference
to a substantial part of the country's population. It may be somewhat unfair
to put the blame on governments when it is the weather gods and the vagaries
of monsoons that create the problem in the first place.
Deserts are chronically water-deficient areas and receive scanty rain,
so what can the government do? Indeed, after reports of severe water shortages
began appearing in the newspapers, the government machinery reacted swiftly
and announced many relief measures for the affected areas. But such steps
are reactive rather than pro-active and are at best a mild palliative to
what is an endemic problem.
Critics allege that successive governments chose to neglect the situation
unless it gets out of hand and then there is a flurry of activity wherein
huge amounts of money are spent.
There is no advance planning, some analysts have claimed, pointing out
that droughts do not just happen, they can be forecast months in advance.
Last year, the government's agencies knew that though the monsoons last
year had been good on the whole, there had been scanty rainfall in some
areas and steps could have been taken to ensure that, come summer, these
areas had access to water.
Even worse is the fear that groundwater resources are gradually depleting
in many parts of India, and not merely in the drought-prone regions. In
the capital, New Delhi, for example, it said that the water table is going
down rapidly and where one could strike water at 70 feet, now one has to
dig for over 200 feet before reaching a water source. Over-urbanisation
and lack of water management is making parts of India water deficient and
ironically, even regions that get a lot of rainfall often have very little
Some non-governmental agencies have suggested that there be water harvesting,
a relatively simple technique of collecting rainwater and then using it
carefully throughout the dry season.
The government is now paying attention and there are plans to start
water harvesting in a big way.
Bridging that dangerous yawning gap
At present it appears that the armed forces have
been able to stem the rapid advance of the LTTE in the Northern theatre.
Did this turn of events occur due to an increase in the firepower of the
armed forces, able leadership or the support of the people in the South?
From the LTTE's point of view, one needs to determine whether the slowdown
was for military, tactical or political reasons. The answer will be known
in the near future.
There are several factors in determining a military advance or retreat.
Firstly, there is the factor of military weaponry, secondly, manpower,
thirdly, the training and leadership of troops, fourthly, the political
leadership and finally, the support given by the citizenry in support of
the armed forces.
The relationship between the strength of armaments and the effect of
manpower is complimentary. The number of armed fighters necessary for a
battle can be reduced by increasing the fighters' firepower. At first,
this equation was not fully understood in the Northern war theatre. In
other services such as logistical information, the same tradeoff between
numbers and efficiency applies. It has been stated that at the height of
the cold war, the KGB had a few thousand informers, while the Mossad had
under a hundred. The Israel intelligence was however far more efficient.
The question, often asked by many, is how the LTTE with a relatively
few cadre are able to hold large territories in the Wanni while the armed
forces with much larger numbers are unable to do so? If the army wishes
to hold Jaffna, it is necessary to open a second battle front.
Training and leadership, and the opinion of the people towards the armed
forces are also significant and interconnected factors. A popular view
has been that there has been a considerable weakening of the war effort
due to political objectives overshadowing military ones. A far more significant
factor has been the yawning gap between the military effort and the lack
of support from the civil society.
This lack of support creates a loss of morale within the armed forces.
This gap is one that has been deliberately created by the NGO sectors,
the government, the opposition and foreign forces.
A few organizations, such as the NMAT, were involved in closing this
gap but these moves had been suppressed in the past. However, at present,
there appears to be a following of these strategies by the government.
There have been Bodhi poojas and a few events in support of the army
amidst cricket matches and the like, but there has not been a substantial
attempt to enlist the support of the civil society towards the war effort.
There have been contradictory statements made by the political leadership,
on the one hand calling for a continuous battle while in the same breadth
seeking a political solution where the LTTE is given undemocratic control
of the very areas that are being fought over.
During these times of crisis, there has to be an appeal made to nationalism,
in particular Sinhala nationalism. Such an appeal however is not being
made by the government or the opposition. The reasons for this are firstly
because as individuals, politicians today have no larger cause. Secondly,
there is a heavy dependency on minority votes. Thirdly, there is a fear
that an appeal to Sinhala nationalism may lead to a 1983 like situation.
Fourthly, in order to win international support the politicians are afraid
to embark on such a course. There is therefore mere sloganizing of empty
words borrowed from a defunct left, liberal movement.
The first two reasons relate to the holding on to power in the South.
If a Sinhala political force merges both these factors will automatically
vanish. The July 1983 argument is an old argument, which holds no water,
as the Tamils in the Wanni move southwards in times of war and not northwards.
The internationalist argument does not explain how a racist force such
as the LTTE is not condemned. The appeal to international opinion should
be secondary to the fundamental factors of a nation state. The first lesson
in our history, simply stated as Athaahi Athano Nathi or that 'ones salvation
lies within oneself' should be learnt, and the appeal should be towards
the reality of Sinhala Nationalism, and not an imagined international position.