When Sri Sri Ravi Shankar looks into a mirror, what does he see?
Perhaps the flowing black tresses, the thick black beard, eyes glazed in a beatific smile, hands that dance with a bit of feminine grace and the white robe that has become his self-signed statement of purity.
But, does he spot even a hint of conscience, signs of a penitent man ready to humbly accept his mistake, bury his hubris and regret the damage caused by his organisation to the Yamuna floodplains? Does, Ravi Shankar know the art of apologising gracefully?
On Thursday, the National Green Tribunal delivered such a strong rebuke to Ravi Shankar that almost any other person would have wished the earth to part so that he could have just hidden inside. The NGT said, "You have no sense of responsibility. Do you think you have the liberty to say whatever you want? It is shocking."
The tribunal, which is hearing the allegations of damage caused by Art of Living Foundation to Yamuna's floodplains, did not take kindly to Sri Sri's allegations of bias against his organisation. It asked the petitioner to file an application putting details of Ravi Shankar's statement on record.
Ravi Shankar and his organisation have been repeatedly indicted by the NGT for the heavy damage to the floodplains. A committee of experts appointed by the tribunal had reported that rehabilitation of Yamuna floodplains destroyed by AoL's World Culture Festival will cost Rs 13.29 crores and take almost 10 years. Ravi Shankar's response, as the NGT observed, has been shocking.
First, he blamed the Centre and NGT for the damage caused to the Yamuna by his event. Then he argued that instead of imposing a penalty on his organisation, the Centre and state governments and the NGT should be penalised for the destruction of the floodplains. The reason: Why did they give him permission if the area was so fragile?
Let us deconstruct this specious argument. In March 2016, Ravi Shankar organised one of India's largest dance-and-breathe gigs on the banks of the Yamuna. Thousands of people gathered at the venue at AoL's invitation. For their comfort, the plains were levelled out, the local fauna and flora were destroyed, some farmers were driven away, and a huge stage was constructed. For three days, thousands of people littered the eco-sensitive zone; danced, defecated, urinated, ate, took deep breaths and left.
Ravi Shankar now argues that why was he given the permission to hold the event if the area was so fragile. And since he was, those responsible for letting him hold the event should be held accountable for the damages defined by the NGT. Now, Ravi Shankar has a history of hilarious arguments.
In 2016, he claimed to have rejected the Noble Prize. Later, he argued that Malala Yousafzai did not deserve the Noble Peace Prize. But, by seeking punishment for those who allowed him to hold the event — for the record, NGT had considered revoking the permission but allowed the event calling it a fait accompli because preparations were at an advanced state — Ravi Shankar has outdone himself.
The problem with Ravi Shankar, like all self-styled godmen, is that they start considering themselves several leagues above ordinary mortals. Swayed by the adulation and bhakti of the followers, they start believing that they are indeed Sri Sri incarnate, a modern avatar of some deity. And since they believe they have descended on terra firma for the benefit of the mankind, ordinary rules of life, laws of the land, decisions of tribunals just don't apply to them. They are, like god, beyond human reproach and judgment.
Had Ravi Shankar believed any of the ideals he preaches — he once asked children to not burst crackers because of the damage to environment — he would have gracefully accepted the NGT verdict and atoned for the damage to the Yamuna floodplains. But, with his churlish arguments, he has become a caricature of himself, a walking rejoinder to his own pravachan, words that make followers go ga-ga over Ravi Shankar.
Perhaps he should face the mirror again. Behind those jet-black hair and pristine-white robes, he may spot a man with a huge ego, zero responsibility to the environment and lack of courage to own up his mistakes.
Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 14:43 PM