The Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has now joined hands with a faction of the pro-talks United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) for a brainstorming session in Guwahati whose goal is to stitch an alliance of all "indigenous communities" in the North East.
Leaders of many indigenous outfits across all the seven states in the region will converge at the conclave, scheduled for 6-7 September at Sankardeva Kalakshetra in the city. Ravi Shankar chips in as the founder of International Association for Human Values which has partly sponsored the event.
He will deliver the keynote speech at the programme after the welcome address by ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia.
Chetia said that more than a thousand delegates were expected to turn up at the programme that will explore "ways and means" to protect the identity and interests of all native groups in the North East.
"We would all like to connect and there is an increasing need for all indigenous communities and their allies to voice their views in a common platform and to reach out to a wider audience," said Chetia. He clarified that only a few functionaries of ULFA were involved in the programme.
A committee has been formed to ensure participation of as many communities as possible in the region.
Coordinators and their deputies have been appointed in every state to draw up a list of local groups, civil society organisations and their senior functionaries. The coordinators are expected to call on the important and senior leaders for giving the invitation.
Reactions began to pour in after posts appeared on Facebook giving details about the event. Many of them were critical about the involvement of Ravi Shankar with the programme while others questioned why the The Art of Living founder had never raised his voice on the burning issues of Assam. A section of overground ULFA functionaries had been equally upset over engaging the spiritual leader in the event.
The answer for Ravi Shankar’s association lies in the funds that International Association for Human Values has contributed for the event.
"His (Ravi Shankar) organisation has agreed to provide funds for the event. We have also managed to gather an amount on our own but that was not sufficient to meet the expenses of the two-day event," Chetia said.
A few Guwahati based persons associated closely with Ravi Shankar’s organisations and who have also been entrusted with tasks for the forthcoming event refused to comment but explained that a press conference would soon be held.
Ravi Shankar’s participation at the event in Guwahati comes close on the heels of a highly publicised ceremony in Manipur on 14 August when as many as 68 militants surrendered before Chief Minister N Biren Singh. The surrender, billed as the outcome of "efforts" by The Art of Living to bring peace to the troubled areas in the North East, has raised eyebrows among a section of journalists and bureaucrats.
Ravi Shankar’s website which is replete with photographs of the ceremony proudly proclaims, "…..many groups opened up and their intermediaries have met Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar several times in Bengaluru and Manipur and stayed in touch with his emissaries. The confidence-building measures initiated by Gurudev played a major role in changing the hearts and mind of the cadres."
Years ago, Ravi Shankar had also put in efforts to bring ULFA chief of staff Paresh Baruah to the negotiating table and had also spoken to the rebel chief on a couple of occasions.
Baruah, who has a Red Corner notice against him and one of the most wanted men in the country, is believed to be staying at a camp along the Sino-Myanmar border.
In the past decade or so, The Art of Living Foundation has carved out a vast network in the North East, especially Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and its list of disciples include several bureaucrats and businessmen.
The writer is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men.
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Updated Date: Sep 03, 2017 12:24:47 IST