Of Self-Styled Gurus and Shameless Abuse of National Institutions and Resources

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sri Sri  Ravi Shankar of Art of Living
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living

Forget the ethical question of whether a democratic state should involve itself with such private melas; the Indian government has gone out of its way in taking the ownership of a cultural festival organized by self-styled guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. In a secular, democratic country, it would be a folly for a government to align itself with religious functions of the kind. Art of Living promotes Hindu ideology and glorifies Hindu traditions in the name of multi-cultural spiritualism. Not only is its festival being inaugurated by the prime minister, revealing the patronage to such an organization and its activities from the highest echelons of power, the Ministry of Culture reportedly gifted Rs 2.25 crore to the Art of Living Foundation despite such brazen environmental vandalism on the Yamuna flood plains

ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he hypocrisy of those who extol the Army as the sole symbol of nationalism and then allow the soldiers to be used for construction work for a private cultural function is fully exposed. Turning Indian Army into a holy cow and viewing nationalism simply from a militaristic prism is a threat to and subversion of democracy.

While its performance in difficult areas and in difficult times needs to be lauded, its personnel must be held accountable for alleged acts of omission and commission. It is equally unacceptable that Army meant to protect the territorial integrity of the Indian state be so denigrated by being called in to build pontoon bridges for a religious congregation organized by the private enterprise which is a private affair. The hypocrisy is laid bare: on the day the government defended its act of pressing in the army to suit the whims of a self-styled godman, it pressed charges against JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar with fresh accusations of speaking against the Army.

What Kanhaiya said was that though he respected the Army, it is also a fact that Army has been accused of raping women in conflict areas like Kashmir and North East Region. This is something that is already well documented and available in the public discourse for long. One needs to only look at the telling decade old photograph of Manipuri women who protested nude outside an army camp with banners ‘Indian Army come and rape us’ to understand the extent of such crimes committed by some soldiers in the name of fighting terror. The argument that questioning such brazen abuse of power by personnel is anti-national but pushing army to construct bridges for a private function as service of the nation is a perversion of democracy.

Forget the ethical question of whether a democratic state should involve itself with such private melas, the Indian government has gone out of its way in taking the ownership of a cultural festival organized by Art of Living Foundation headed by self-styled spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. In a secular, democratic country, it would be a folly for a government to align itself with religious functions of the kind. Art of Living promotes Hindu ideology and glorifies Hindu traditions in the name of multi-cultural spiritualism. Not only is its festival being inaugurated by the prime minister, revealing the patronage to such an organization and its activities from the highest echelons of power.

The Union Ministry of Culture, headed by Mahesh Sharma, had reportedly given Rs 2.25 crore to the Art of Living Foundation for its cultural festival, despite such brazen environmental vandalism on the Yamuna flood plains. The organization with its capacity to spend over hundred crores in a year normally does not require such government assistance, which as a norm is given to non-government organizations involved in philanthropic activity but usually such an amount is fixed only upto Rs 20 lakhs or so.

Army personnel construct temporary bridges over Yamuna river for the three-day World Peace Festival organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in New Delhi (Photo: PTI)
Army personnel construct temporary bridges over Yamuna river for the three-day World Peace Festival organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in New Delhi (Photo: PTI)

The money apart, the entire state machinery has been shockingly pressed into service to ensure that the festival being organized on the Yamuna flood plains smoothly butchers the ecology of the area and leaves farmers forcibly without a livelihood. All this in the name of spiritualism and non-violence!

Should a duly elected government of a democratic country be aligning itself with such an organization and event that has contributed to brazen ecological vandalism; and over and above that is guilty of openly daring a statutory institution like National Green Tribunal by publicly declaring to violate its order and refusing to pay a fine of Rs 5 crores (though later it agreed to pay just Rs 25 lakhs promising to pay the rest later), which is too little a price and cannot do much to restore the ecology or the pride of the Army that it has so brutally trampled in pursuit of going ahead with a ‘spiritual’ extravaganza aimed at promotion of one man and one particular religion.

The most shocking aspect of the entire affair is the brazen misuse of the Army as part of the state paraphernalia in facilitating and executing the construction work with pontoon bridges over the river flood basins.

According to media reports, Army generals were reluctant to get involved but they were simply given the orders by the defense ministry, which they dared not refuse. Defense minister Parrikar admitted that he gave the orders but reasoned that this was done in view of the security angle and the threat of stampede in an expected gathering of lakhs of people from across the globe. It is not unusual for the Army to perform jobs other than its primary job of guarding borders and maintaining the territorial security of the country with its involvement in counter- insurgency operations to work for civilian welfare. However, such efforts are often limited to occasions like natural disasters or goodwill projects for under-developed villages in the borders.

The Army as a norm extends a helping hand to civilians in distress; not to cash rich companies and organizations who could well hire some private companies to make the necessary arrangements. Threat of stampede in any way does not qualify as a security threat and if at all there were inputs of terror threats, the only ethical and moral thing to do would be to keep army on the stand by for security duty, which is what Army is meant for.

The shocking events in the past few weeks reveal a pattern that should cause alarm to not only those who cherish India’s secular and democratic values but also the Indian armed forces. The RSS-BJP has very cleverly climbed up the ladder by appropriating secular personalities like Gandhi and Patel for their own wider acceptability in public, dumping them and gradually moving over to their more preferred and original heroes like Godse, Hedgewar and Golwalker. Similarly, it has appropriated Army as a symbol of nationalism because of the immense respect that soldiers command by and large in this country.

The army is first turned into a virtuous icon that cannot be questioned and every dissenting voice, any opposition and any rationale is condemned as ‘anti-national’ by invoking the brave soldiers ‘dying for the cause of the country on the borders’. The Army is used to the hilt like a mascot by a government that maintains cryptic silence over the promised demands of One Rank One Pension to the retired servicemen and the pay parities. Once the saffron organisations have convinced the public that they are truly pro-Army (and the rest anti them), it has now begun to demolish and denigrate the very force that it began to extol for its unquestioned virtuosity.

At a ‘Make in India’ traders convention in Mumbai last week, it should thus come as no shock or surprise that prime minister Narendra Modi chose to extol the trading community (a vast chunk of them known for their illegitimate practices of hoarding, black marketing, exploitation, corruption and tax evasion) and deem them far more “courageous and brave” than the Army soldiers guarding the borders. The pontoon bridges are only a small part of the project. The aim and agenda is to methodically replace Army as a symbol of national ‘bravery’ and nationalism itself with the militant warriors of the RSS, Bajrangis and the rest.

And yet, the only anti-nationals are those who wish to make the Indian Army far more worthy of pride by making the erring personnel within accountable.

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