Art of Lobbying for Nobel Prize
In Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, there is a small village called Papanasam, which literally means the “destruction of sins” in Tamil. Sri Sri Ravishankar of the Art of Living fame was born in this little village 60 years ago. I do not know how much Sri Sri Ravi Shankar knows of the art of living, but he certainly knows the art of lobbying for the Nobel Peace Prize. With this specific purpose in mind, the spiritual guru sought to promote the World Culture Festival held on the outskirts of the national last weekend.
Claims were made that 3.5 million people from 155 countries participated in the three-day World Culture Festival. But the event promoted by the Art of Living (AoL) foundation has been dogged by a Rs 5 crore fine slapped by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for the damage it caused to the environment. Suffice to say, there was hardly any river present. Moreover, the banks of the absent Yamuna were screaming under the weight of a seven-acre large stage, 36,000 artists, dozens of foreign dignitaries, and a makeshift bridge built by the Indian Army.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was awarded Padma Vibhushan—the second highest civilian award in India—on this year’s Republic Day. His name is now doing the rounds as a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. AoL thinks that it has played a significant role in bringing peace to Colombia since November 2012. In July 2015, the Colombian government had honoured Sri Sri with their highest civilian award called the ‘Orden de la Democracia Simón Bolívar’. The foundation is busy propagating the discussions that Sri Sri had held with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during his visit to Cuba. Since the first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1902, only two Indians have been conferred with the honour – Mother Teresa (1979), founder of Missionaries of Charity and child rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi (2014).
It is not without reason that the Narendra Modi government is projecting the spiritual guru as a major contributor to India’s soft diplomacy. AoL claims to have a major presence in more than 150 countries. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has also spread its wings globally in recent years. Sri Sri’s deep admiration for the RSS is not new. He has been in close touch with RSS hierarchy for years. I recall the first week of October 2011, when the then president of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Nitin Gadkari, who is now a Union Minister, had invited Sri Sri to release his book. Present at the dais was senior RSS functionary Suresh Soni. I also recall what Sri Sri had said as the chief guest at the concluding function of RSS’s annual third-year training camp at Nagpur on 12 June 2014, where RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was present. He praised RSS for “crafting good nationalists for a long time” and “giving the society both reformers and rulers”.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s association with Narendra Modi also is very old. He had met Modi for the first time even before he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. It was in New York during the United Nations’ Millennium World Peace Summit in August 2000 when Sri Sri was introduced to Modi by another Modi—Bharat Kumar Modi—the renowned industrialist. “A man in blue safari suit was sitting right across me”, Sri Sri once said. “B.K. introduced the man as Narendra Modi, an RSS Pracharak. Modi greeted me and appreciated my speech at the summit”.
Modi assumed the Chief Minister’s office in December 2001. After the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots, Sri Sri’s Art of Living volunteers had participated in relief work. Both of them maintained contact after AoL’s work in Gujarat. Whenever Sri Sri paid a visit to Gujarat, Modi would go and sit with him for meditation and sometimes also participated in ‘satsangs’. A strong presence of the Indian diaspora in several countries is reason enough for Modi to utilise the services of the fastest succeeding guru in the market of happiness. But he seems oblivious to the fact that his spiritual associate’s reputation has been overshadowed by serious unholy controversies in quite a few countries.
The Prime Minister’s Office is planning for Modi’s visit to Israel some time later this year. President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel last November but this would be the first visit of any Indian Prime Minister to Israel. Sri Sri has roots in Israel for more than a decade. He has been maintaining cordial relations with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli leaders. AoL runs programmes for hardened criminals and extremists in Israel’s high-security prisons. Making Modi’s Israel visit successful is what Sri Sri would relish most at the moment.
And if you think Sri Sri only wants to spread the message of peace on our planet, think twice. He is already busy spreading an empire built on massage oils, health supplements, Bhajan and Yoga Nidra CDs, Books and Guides internationally. Other products, including, Sri Sri’s Oorja Vati, Shilajit, Rejuvenating Shakti Immune Drops, Night Cream, Body Butter, Protein Shampoo, Anti Dandruff Shampoo, Malai Cream Soap, Almond Honey Soap, Cucumber Lemon Face Wash, Cleansing Milk, Hydrating Conditioner, Toothpaste, Mouth Freshener, Anti-Acne Face Wash, Anti-Acne Gel, Exfoliating Face Scrub, Aloe Vera Cream, Vedanantaka Liniment, Mamatva Granules, Balms, Syrups, Triphala Churna, Chyawanprash, Ashwagandha, Neem Tablet, Liver Tonic and Karela Juice are selling like hot cakes at his wellness centers and franchise “Shankara” shops all over the world. I wish Sri Sri the best for his Nobel shopping.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. Views expressed are personal)