All's fair in love for Sri Sri. Even if it involves joining hands with someone you are at war with over everything else. Yes, we are looking at you AAP and BJP.
The self-proclaimed 'spiritual guru', who now stands accused of hammering that last nail in the polluted, choked Yamuna's coffin, seems to have united two political parties who otherwise don't miss a single opportunity to bring each other down.
The National Green Tribunal gave the green signal to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's mammoth Art Of Living birthday bash, also called the World Culture Festival, yesterday. They also slapped a fine of Rs 5 crore on AOL 'as an interim compensation for the event’s impact on the environment'.
And guess who breathed a sigh of relief, apart from Sri Sri himself? Arvind Kejriwal.
Preparations underway for the AOL festival.
The Delhi chief minister immediately took to Twitter to ask people to stop attacking Sri Sri's event and even went to the extent of holding the AOL festival up as a model cultural festival. Following are his tweets:
Now that NGT has given its verdict, all politics n controversies around AOL event shud be put to rest(1/2)
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 9, 2016
Its a huge cultural event wherein people from 155 countries are coming. Delhi welcomes all guests(2/2)
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 9, 2016
Let's consider what he is actually 'welcoming': nearly 3.5 million people trampling over the ecologically fragile bank of the Yamuna river. 'Guests' for whom, the natural occupants of the banks - vegetation, birds, animals and farmers - have been uprooted. The Delhi High Court had called the assault on the floodplains an 'ecological disaster'.
An earthmover is used to level the surface for traffic movement at the site of World Culture Festival.
Chances are that both the BJP and AAP know what the high court is talking about.
In December 2015, the BJP organised a 'Yamuna Cleaning Campaign'. The BJP Delhi website proudly shows off its lawmakers and members lined along the Yamuna Ghat near ITO. Prakash Javadekar and Harsh Vardhan attended the first leg of what they called the 'Swachh Yamuna Campaign'.
Kejriwal, on his part, had announced in November last year that the Yamuna will be cleaned and the floodplains restored in the next five years.
In fact, in August last year, the Centre and the Delhi government had claimed to have set the ball rolling on the cleaning and restoration of the Yamuna.
The fact that both parties had acknowledged the need to restore the river points at their awareness of the fragility of the area. How they managed to accommodate the World Culture Festival into their 'Clean Yamuna' plans, no one will ever know.
Kejriwal's announcement of support for Sri Sri, comes following an uncharacteristic silence over an issue which saw the BJP being taken to the cleaners. One has to look no further than the controversial pontoons being built by the Army to see where it came from. As defence minister Manohar Parrikar painstakingly explained that the government had employed the Army to build pontoons for a private event solely because they wanted to avoid 'accidents', it was revealed that Delhi water minister Kapil Mishra had written to the defence ministry asking for another pontoon to be built.
New structures created on the floodplains for the culture festival.
Parrikar defended the employment of the Army saying the troops have experience with crowd management in events like the Kumbh Mela (which by the way is state-sponsored) and were best suited to ensure the safety of the visitors to Sri Sri's event. One cannot deny the identical 'atithi devo bhava' sentiment that runs through Parrikar's explanation and Kejriwal's 'welcome' tweet.
Kejriwal's minister Mishra, on his part, accused the media of misconstructing his statement. He said emphatically that he just wanted another bridge made for safety purposes, since one was being constructed anyway. In other words, he was just adding fuel to the fire someone else started.
A report on The Indian Express, however, contradicts Mishra's claims and points out that the request seeking the help of the Army to build pontoons was originally raised by the Delhi government. The report quotes a Defence ministry official as saying, "Existing guidelines enable state governments to requisition the Army for aid to civil authorities. A request was received from the Delhi government and the Ministry asked the Army to extend help."
Arvind Kejriwal (L), Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu (C), Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Uma Bharti (R) before their meeting over specifics of Yamuna rejuvenation plan at Nirman Bhawan on August 26, 2015 in New Delhi, India.
If that is indeed the case, did the defence ministry just deflect a storm that could have well engulfed the AAP, towards its own party and government? In his interview to India Today, Parrikar makes no mention of the Kejriwal government's involvement in the issue. He doesn't even bring up the request for the second pontoon which Mishra himself has admitted to. One is tempted to point out that is one example of great teamwork!
Alongside the news of the Rs 5 crore fine slapped on AOL, it was revealed that the culture ministry, headed by Mahesh Sharma, had extended a Rs 2.25 crore grant for the event.
"The government funding was allotted to the Vyakti Vikas Kendra Trust in Bengaluru, run by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, as part of the Culture Ministry's programme of Financial Assistance to Cultural Organisations," reports NDTV. With close to 300 million followers spread across 151 countries, it's slightly difficult to see how AOL desperately needed financial assistance from the Indian government. Kejriwal, who had portrayed himself as the torchbearer of the crusade against bogus spending and 'favours' extended by governments to corporations didn't see red when this news was reported.
Let's make this clear: the Delhi CM is not exactly on a hiatus from BJP-bashing. He has been after the government at the Centre over the JNU sedition row and the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar.
However, a little investigation reveals that Kejriwal's respect for Sri Sri goes long back in time. In fact, known as a person to hit back at criticism, Kejriwal merely sounded heartbroken and sad, when Sri Sri had criticised his party in 2014. In a blog, Sri Sri had said that Kejriwal had been resorting to gimmicks to run his party. This is what the Delhi CM said in response:
Pujya Guruji Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji. I am deeply hurt that u have written such strong sentiments against me......
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) April 4, 2014
Who knows, perhaps he was hoping to literally build back the bridges he had burnt with Sri Sri?
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