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Why is Karnataka Assembly speaker wooing Sri Sri, a 'diehard' Hindutva protege?

By Shamsul Islam* 

The 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections was a milestone in the fight for saving Indian democracy from the Hindutva onslaught. Congress defeated RSS-BJP convincingly. Though it was a State election, the results had national ramifications. Karnataka had become the newest Hindutva laboratory; the RSS-BJP campaigners used every dirty trick in the Hindutva armoury of communal polarization to put a stamp of approval to the rule of Basavaraj Bommai.
Under him Karnataka had turned into a land out of bound for Muslims, their beliefs and customs; lynching becoming a new normal. What was at stake for PM Modi in this election can be known by the fact that he asked for votes in the name of Bajrang Bali (Hanuman).
Congress could win because it boldly challenged the Hindutva bigotry during election promising that it would ban organizations like Bajrang Dal (RSS storm-troopers) and discard anti-minority laws passed by the Bommai government including pro-Hindutva changes in the school text books. Congress victory was ensured due to unwavering stand against Hindutva communal polarizing campaign by the Congress top campaigners, including Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Siddarmaiah and DK Shivakumar.
Sadly, UT Khader Fareed, Speaker of Karnataka Assembly, who won on Congress ticket, is showing no inclination to defend this gain, on the contrary using his office to legitimize the Hindutva ideology. He has invited a die-hard Hindutva Guru, Art of Living’s founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, as a prominent resource person to train the first time MLAs, numbering 70, in meditation and yoga therapy apart from classes on the technicalities of law making.
Who advised him to invite Sri Sri? It is shocking that a senior Congress leader from Karnataka is not familiar with the background of this controversial godman. He has been a prominent speaker at almost all RSS events. If the speaker had even asked a clerk in his office to search the Hindutva credentials of Sri Sri, the former would have been provided with the following troubling facts.
Sri Sri is an old patron of Hindutva organizations like Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), an affiliate of Sanatan Sanstha. These organizations are being investigated for assassinations of MM Kalburgi (a renowned thinker and critic of Brahmanism, assassinated on August 30, 2017), Gauri Lankesh (a renowned Lingayat author, journalist and activist, assassinated on September 5, 2017), Govind Pansare (communist leader and historian, assassinated on February 20, 2015) and Narender Dabholkar (rationalist and thinker, assassinated on August 20, 2013). The first two belonged to speaker’s own State.
How close and old is the relationship of Sri Sri with these organizations which are being investigated for Hindutva terrorism can be known by the following statement of Mumbai region convener of HJS Shivaji Vatkar and Ramesh Shinde, spokesperson of HJS for Maharashtra stated after meeting Sri Sri on the 20th November (2006) in Mumbai:
“The founder of the 'Art of Living' Pujya Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Swamiji) has given his blessings to the activities of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS)… He conveyed His blessings. Swamiji further said that He knew about the HJS' activities and appreciated the same. He also said that, the HJS should continue to create awareness among the masses…
"Shri Shinde also informed Swamiji about the campaigns undertaken by the HJS against the 'Anti-Superstition Act' and the 'Temple Takeover Act' with a view to make the society aware of anti-Hindu activities being undertaken by the Maharashtra Government. On this occasion, Swamiji was also shown sattvik pictures of deities drawn by seekers of the Sanatan Sanstha.”
It is to be noted that apart from, as per police investigations, being involved in assassinations of ‘anti-Hindu’ intellectuals HJS and Sanatan Sanstha have been involved in aggressive campaigns for converting democratic-secular India into Hindu rashtra. The theme of the yearly conferences is fixed: ‘All India Hindu Convention for Establishment of Hindu Nation’. In 2013, the second such conference began with a felicitation message from Modi as CM of Gujarat. Sri Sri could not come to grace the conference but bestowed his blessings by offering a yellow shawl to Shivaji Vatkar to be presented in the said conference.
It was at this conference that a senior RSS cadre, KV Sitaramiah, in his address declared that Gandhi was ‘terrible, wicked and most sinful’. Rejoicing the killing of MK Gandhi, he went on to declare:
“As Bhagwan Shri Krishna said in the Gita, Paritranaya Sadhunam Vinashaya Cha Dushkritam/ Dharamasansthapnaya Sambhavami Yuge-Yuge (For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of righteousness, I am born in every age) On 30th January 1948 evening, Shriram came in the form of Nathuram Godse and ended the life of Gandhi.”
Sri Sri’s modus operandi, operations, gimmicks and close connections with RSS have been recorded by a renowned South Asia expert and journalist, Edward Luce, in his amazing book, “In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India”, published by Doubleday, New York, 2007.
Narrating details of a meeting with him at his palatial ashram at Bengaluru Luce stated:
“I had come to visit Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (not to be confused with Ravi Shankar, the classical sitar player), who is perhaps the most prominent of a new breed of highly successful Hindu evangelists, at his Art of Living Foundation near Bangalore in south India. It was evening and hundreds of devotees had already congregated for evening prayers. From close up, the meditation hall was even more striking. Rising to five stories, it had been built entirely from marble. 
"The hall was shaped like a lotus. There were 1,008 marble petals covering the exterior of the building symbolizing the diversity of human consciousness. It was only a few years old. The funding for this extravagant construction had come from corporate donations-much of it from the software companies in nearby Bangalore-and revenues the foundation earns from its hugely popular course in breathing techniques and meditation. ‘Come inside,’ said the polite young lady assigned to show me around. ‘You are just in time to watch the guruji take his evening questions.’”

“The interior was even more striking, fashioned like a Roman amphitheatre. We sat on polished white marble steps looking down at the stage in the centre. I felt like I had stepped inside a large wedding cake…Alone on the stage, on what looked to be a large throne, sat a man in flowing white robes with an equally flowing white robes with an equally flowing beard and silky locks of hair falling luxuriantly around his shoulders. It looked as if Jesus were shooting a shampoo advertisement. This was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.”
Referring to question-answer session, Luce wrote:
“There was some chanting and clashing of cymbals. Then the prayers ended and a hush descended over the hall. It was time for guruji to take questions. I, expecting people to ask about higher consciousness or metaphysics. But the questions consisted mostly of mundane queries about how to deal with recalcitrant teenagers, whether staying late in the office was a good thing, and how to choose a marriage partner. 
"The guruji spoke in a quiet but sonorous voice. But his answers were more like those of an advice columnist than a prophet… Someone asked about whether it was always wrong to pay bribes. ‘You shouldn’t be too idealistic all the time,’ said the guruji. ‘Sometimes you have to make little, little compromises.’ Again the audience erupted in laughter. I was beginning to wonder about the Art of Living’s breathing techniques."
According to Luce, Sri Sri was a fervent supporter of building of a Ram Temple after demolishing Babri Mosque at Ayodhya:
“What is less widely known is the guruji’s close attachment to the RSS. He has shared platforms with VHP leaders at public meetings. I asked him whether the Ram Temple should be built in Ayodhya. ‘Suppose,’ he said, ‘that it was the birthplace of Jesus or Mohammed. What would you have done? Would you have tolerated another structure on that site? 
"Let us build a temple to Ram and let the Muslims make this gesture as an act of goodwill and then the temple will also belong to Allah and to all Muslims.’ To Allah? I asked. ‘Yes, as you must have seen, we accept all paths to God. Sometimes we wish other religions would do the same.’ The guruji’s words reminded me of Advani’s desire to see more ‘Hindu Muslims and more ‘Hindu Christians’.”
Luce underlining the deep partnership between Sri Sri and RSS shared an anecdote:
“A few weeks later received a telephone call from Ram Madhav, the national spokesman of the RSS. ‘I am calling about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar,’ said Madhav. ‘I was talking to him the other day and he said he was disappointed with your article in the Financial Times. You only quoted his views on politics and the Shankaracharya. He said he was hoping you would quote his views on tolerance and spiritualism.’ It is true my article had lacked space to quote the guruji’s opinions on other matters. But I was surprised the guruji should have chosen the RSS -- of all organizations -- to convey his complaint.”
The author
It is high time Congress leaders like Karnataka Speaker Khader Fareed who are part of Hindutva sleeping cells in Congress are divested of all responsibilities. The democratic-secular India is indebted to Karnataka for being a barricade against the free run of the Hindutva bandwagon, let no Fifth Columnist be allowed to demolish it.
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*Formerly at the Delhi University, click here for some of Prof Islam's writings and video interviews/debates, and here for his books. Facebook: https://facebook.com/shamsul.islam.332. Twitter: @shamsforjustice. Blog: http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/

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