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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TEHELKA'S Godfellas III - A series on gurus and their politics: Swami Agnivesh, Social Activist!

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Revati Laul, Special Correspondent, Tehelka./ From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 25, Dated 25 June 2011.

Swami Agnivesh
Different breed Swami Agnivesh has become a poster boy for Left libearls / Photos: Shailendra Pandey.

IN THE search for spiritual leaders who are now entering the political space, the names that immediately come to mind are Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Gurus who have a mass base and a political voice. But there is another spiritual leader, arguably, at the margins of the political mainstream. Who is a left-liberal activist. And an agnostic. A swami in saffron robes who doesn’t believe in organised religion. And who doesn’t want to be called a Hindu. Swami Agnivesh has no following at all. And he repeatedly says, “Don’t call me a guru.” He stands for some of the same causes as Sri Sri and Ramdev have, but from a different spiritual and political space.

In recent months you have probably seen the saffron-clad swami on Anna Hazare’s dais — he was and is an active part of that movement. He also supported Ramdev’s cause, but from a distance. And denounced the police brutality that resulted in its violent end. While Left liberals have successfully used Agnivesh as their spiritual poster boy, the question is, what does he really represent in the political mainstream? Like the political ideology he stands for, is he caught in a bind, where he is always preaching to the converted? Speaking of decentralised development to people who already believe that? And communal harmony to the ideological Left? Is Agnivesh’s critique of globalisation in a neo-capitalist India really reaching people who don’t agree with him but are willing to listen?

We put all these questions to Agnivesh. But to really understand what he thinks, we urge you to go by not just the plain text of what he says. There is another layer sitting in the subtext for the reader to unravel. Where he talks of why Ramdev was on Aastha TV and he wasn’t. Why Ramdev has a mass following and he doesn’t. And in the dismissal of all things worldly, and also all things Ramdev, a perhaps universal need to be heard and acknowledged, to be a part of the mainstream, to occupy the space that Ramdev has.

An Activist among Activists, with no mass base but, an interesting personality to watch!

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