Sunday, 27 March 2016

Did India gain in any way from Sri Sri’s festival?

More than the magnitude of the festival, what makes it so rewarding for India is the emergence of spirituality as the benchmark of moral conduct

M Rajaque Rahman (@rajaque)

While the jury is still out on whether the Art of Living’s World Culture Festival (WCF) did cause any damage to the Yamuna at all, the three-day global extravaganza has produced one clear winner. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s brand of spirituality with inclusiveness and pragmatism as its hallmark set a new paradigm of national discourse.

That the festival, per se, was a grand spectacle befitting the coming together of the entire world is no subjective inference. A galaxy of influential leaders, thousands of dignitaries, a sea of humanity, a seamless confluence of diversity, spectacular cultural performances and nearly 36,000 artists on one stage that stood 40-ft tall across seven acres without a foundation… This is surely a stuff of the legend. 

More than the magnitude of the festival, what makes it so rewarding for India is the emergence of spirituality as the benchmark of moral conduct. In the run-up to the event which witnessed a targetted calumny against the Art of Living, spirituality was raised to the pedestal it actually belongs but long denied. Even the dirty muck thrown at Sri Sri and Art of Living was ceveatted a spiritual spin. Being led by a spiritual guru, the Art of Living must be saintly in its dealings was the line of attack. Spirituality stood like a guarantor for best practices. This augurs well for India. India has undervalued her spiritual wealth for long. The time has come to hardsell her impeccable track record of uniting people as a counter to the canard of intolerance.  
Ahoy Sri Sri for waking up the nation a cure-all formula! Being spiritual, the Art of Living was expected to display higher-than-normal care for the environment and not hold the event on Yamuna floodplains. Some media reports even went on to suggest that being a spiritual show, the visitors shouldn’t be urinating around the Yamuna or there shouldn’t have been any case of theft. There was an uncanny admission that Sri Sri’s formula has the power to change the national conscience! Don’t accuse me of being spiritually mean for suggesting urinating in the open is almost like a national habit and theft is part of any large gathering!

Sri Sri has reason to smile at the criticisms and take them as compliments. Unwittingly, his detractors have handed him the authority to spiritually command the nation. He was seen as a symbol of virtues in public life and any perceived digression was frowned at. He was seen as capable of inspiring his volunteers to clean up the ground within hours and without engaging rack-pickers or cleaning agencies. The onus of ensuring that the Army is used only for fighting the enemies was put on him. Some even thought he should have ensured the artists didn’t get drenched despite a heavy and sudden downpour!

Even Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal read the writing on the wall and admitted that spiritual leadership of Sri Sri was a must to clean up the Yamuna. The larger point is that everybody saw a silver lining in spirituality. That’s why Sri Sri’s “private party” was so significant of India. It sensitised the nation to the formula to build the ideal India that we aspire for.

The other major gainer from the festival was the idea of India itself. It was no ordinary cultural jamboree, but a prestigious platform for India to showcase her genius to the world. With people from 155 countries descending to Delhi, India couldn’t hope for a better chance of proving that we also are one the most humane and tolerant civilization! Watched on the Internet by millions, the festival beamed LIVE the brighter side of India to over 188 countries at a time when the world is keenly debating whether India has lost its harmony in diversity and become intolerant of opposing ideologies!

Undoubtedly, it was one of the most powerful PR blitz for India after the International Day of Yoga. Many of the foreign dignitaries underscored this aspect of the festival. As remarked by Rajdeep Sardesai in a column, the festival was an evidence of India’s growing ‘soft power’. Both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj also acknowledged that much. It’s another matter that Mr Sardesai choose to see it through a communal eye by raking up the issue of the ascendance of ‘soft Hindu power’. This habit of portraying India in a negative light is what makes festivals like WCF even more relevant for her.

On the ground, nobody really cared for their communal identity and everybody was ready to be united as humanity. This is a no mean achievement in the polarised world we live in. The standing ovation that the Pakistani contingent got from the huge crowd brings the hope that the people of two countries can actually unite to defeat terror. The controversy over who shouted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ or Jai Hind and whether such sloganeering constitutes sedition is a deadwood. Such needless controversies are not unusual as we live amidst a media fraternity where the top names happily admit they move around in circles with no viveka to decipher the context!

That vacuum also explains why muck has been thrown at the Art of Living and Sri Sri the same way we have been throwing garbage to the Yamuna. But the resilience to pick gold out of muck is what gives India a place of pride. Thank you, Sri Sri for showing it to the world!

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