A few days ago, Uttarakhand witnessed yet another flood and I am not sure I want to call it a “natural disaster” which could give the impression that it wasn’t caused by human activity. Since I am no expert on the subject, let’s just say that it may or may not have been caused by human activity and until the experts give an opinion, I am not willing to rule out the real possibility that human activity was responsible for it. As usual, social media was agog with feverish activity and opinions were being churned out by netizens by the second. Within a matter of minutes of the news of the flood breaking out, the debate predictably turned political. Sure, nine out of ten times one cannot expect political parties to look beyond politics and I accept that as the reality of the times we live in. I don’t say this from a position of cynicism, I am just stating the situation for what it is. However, what was disconcerting was that even members of the public, instead of going beyond politics on a subject that involves nature, were comfortable limiting the scope of their enlightened and informed debates to politics on platforms that have no love lost for nuance.
I use disconcerting and not surprising because the unfortunate reality is that politics has become the lens through which every issue, regardless of the seriousness it deserves, is analysed. I also realized that environment/nature is perhaps among the most heavily politicized of topics given that it has a bearing on “development” and “economy”. Any discussion on the balance to be struck between “development” and respect for “nature”, the fashionably coined “sustainable development”, affects a lot of pockets at several levels. Therefore, given the propensity for conflict of interest, it would be naïve to not expect the debate around nature to not turn political and personal. However, for a land which has been associated with rivers, forests, floral and faunal diversity, so much so that this was the image of Bharat in the European colonizer’s popular and stereotypical representation barely 127 years ago in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, it is indeed tragic that Bharat unfailingly witnesses “natural disasters” almost every year for causes which are not entirely “natural”.