(This article was first published on 9 March 2018. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives in the light of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s appointment as a member on the panel to mediate the Ayodhya land dispute.)
I never thought I’d share this incident with anyone. While reporting and working in the business of news, we come across a number of incidents, but are unable to talk about all of them. Often it is important not to. These things are informal, or sometimes off the record. A person aspiring to become even a somewhat-okay journalist needs to maintain the sanctity of these values.
However, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has crossed the limit. He wants to play a role in the resolution of the Ayodhya conflict and has been trying to get involved for a while. His most recent statements are dangerous and scary.
He says that if the Supreme Court does not rule in favour of a temple, there will be civil war in the country. This is a threat. It also reveals what really lies beneath the polished exterior of his clean image.
Too caught up to read this? You can listen to it instead.
Sri Sri’s Anti-Muslim Sentiment is Nothing New
I saw this face unveiled in 2002 as well. That is the incident I am going to recount here. I was a reporter for a TV channel. An invitation came from the proprietor/promoter of a large media house in the country.
It was an offer to meet Ravi Shankar at his place. This invitation came through a senior of mine. The group of 5-6 journalists who went included the editor of this specific group’s newspaper, and the senior who had invited me. These were the days just after the Gujarat riots.
As soon as he entered, he said he had gone to meet the then home minister LK Advani. He said some other things as well – which were meant to impress that he was extremely concerned about the situation in the country, and was working to reinstate peace and brotherhood.
A little later, this dialogue came out– wo log bare hi kattar hote hain. Quran mein toh likha hain, pata nahi sau ya aise hi kuch logon ko maar kar musalman to ghazi ki upadhi mil jati hai. (Those people are quite fanatical. It is said in the Quran that if they kill a hundred or so people, a Muslim attains the title of Ghazi aka a warrior general).
He repeated this twice, and then went around explaining it. I was the junior-most in this group. When I noticed that no one else had made a comment about his statement, I mustered my courage and politely asked him where this was written and whether he had read it himself. I told him what he was saying was incorrect and that he shouldn’t say such things.
Ravi Shankar looked a little shocked and rattled, then changed the subject and moved away. However, the mood of the entire meeting had changed. After a while, we left.
When we stepped out, the editor of the aforementioned large English newspaper said that since they were hosting Ravi Shankar, he couldn’t express his disagreement, but added that I’d done the right thing.
My senior patted my back and said, “Very good, I only thought of you as a jeans-wearing kid, but you very smoothly, and with a lot of gravitas, left Ravi Shankar speechless.”
I don’t know much about religious texts but I’m pretty sure there is nothing of this sort in the Quran. The word ‘Ghazi’ means warrior, a religious warrior – it is an Arabic word.
India Loves “Feel-Good Babas” Like Sri Sri
There were many of my acquaintances who saw gentleness and peace in Ravi Shankar. As a reporter, I always had an inquisitive eye on everyone, from Rajneesh to Ravi Shankar to Swami Ramdev.
Ravi Shankar’s organisation called me many times, creating opportunities for interviews, but I never went. My initial impression was that he was a guru for the urban affluent and that if he teaches yoga and prayers then it’s a good thing. But I never took the offer for an interview.
If you look at the Baba/religious guru market, a clear trend becomes visible. There is no dearth of tragedy and depression in India, so most people spend their lives based on “feel good” faith. To fulfill this demand, we have numerous Babas, who cater to different segments.
Ravi Shankar caters to the wealthy and the middle class. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is for the luxury segment. Somewhat different from them is Baba Ramdev, the aam aadmi and the poor man’s guru, who at least delivers some direct benefit – he teaches yoga, sells everyday necessities, and protests hypocrisy and superstition.
As for the likes of Asaram and Gurmeet, let us not discuss them here.
People like Ravi Shankar spend their lives trying to prove themselves as godmen, different from the common man. This is why I feel bad when I see successful and educated people getting caught in a cycle of superstition under their influence.
India’s Gurus: Politicians in Spiritual Clothing
In the field of politics, very often men wrapped in religious or spiritual cloaks end up becoming mouthpieces for the politicians who use them. They are desperate to become their flag-bearers and sing songs in their praise.
We are usually unable to see their proximity to power and their thirst for fame because they cloak themselves in a way that has us respecting them, believing that they are miracle workers. So we don’t weigh them on the scales of logic, or question them.
By repeating what he said in the interview, while defending himself against criticism, Ravi Shankar has fallen to new lows. The Supreme Court is being sent a message, or a threat, so to speak: Pay attention to popular opinion, and give a verdict accordingly.
Ravi Shankar is a part of this threat. He is a mercenary. He might not see the electoral use of polarisation, hate, and sectarianism in society; because it is possible that he is doing all this, with or without an invitation, to keep his shop running.
We are a free-thinking society, you have every right to an opinion, as do I. In 2002 I had formed a loose opinion that Ravi Shankar is ignorant. But in his latest role, he has solidified my opinion that he’s ignorant, as well as an anarchist.
. Read more on Opinion by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsMicrosoft Says More Than 800 Million Devices Running on Windows 10 . Read more on Opinion by The Quint.