Articles



In Manipur, cynicism abounds over surrender of 68 militants – and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s role in it


by Arunabh Saikia - scroll.in | Published: Thursday, September 14, 2017

One September morning, in the conference room of a plush hotel in Guwahati, a reporter asked Ravi Shankar an uncomfortable question. “Sri Sri,” the reporter began, referring to the spiritual guru’s peace efforts in the North East, “people are saying you are doing all this only to get the Nobel prize – is that true?”

Shankar, who had once questioned the credentials of the Nobel Committee for conferring the prize on the Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai, paused for a moment and then replied in an even tone: “I have been working for bringing peace to the North East for more than a decade. This is a very dear job to me, I never expect any kind of reward for this.”

The press meet came more than a fortnight after 68 militants in the state on August 14 gave up arms – which Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh credited to the efforts of Shankar and his Art of Living Foundation. The press meet was held on the sidelines of the North East Indigenous People’s Conference, a motley congregation of civil society organisations, student bodies, human rights defenders and former armed insurgents, brought together by Anup Chetia, the general secretary of the pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam. Shankar, the founder of multi-crore spiritual organisation Art of Living, which is now diversifying into consumer goods, was the chair of the event.

Funded by International Association for Human Values, an Art of Living partner organisation that is registered in several countries and was founded by Shankar, the conference was announced following an assault on August 22 a few former ULFA militants in Assam’s Nagaon district, allegedly by Bengali-speaking traders suspected to have connections to the Bharatiya Janata Party,.

Many Assamese nationalists saw the Nagaon incident as an insult to the indigenous people of the state by perceived “outsiders”, and the conference was conceptualised by Chetia largely as an assertion of the region’s indigenous population. But with Shankar in the fray, it became more than just that. It was projected as a platform for the North East’s many disgruntled groups to come together, discuss their grievances, and come back to the mainstream – with the help of Shankar and the Art of Living.

The spiritual leader underlined this in his keynote address: “I want to bring happiness and prosperity to the people of the North East, but it can’t come with conflict.” For the first time, Shankar claimed, the “breakthrough” conference brought a “connect between the people of the region”. “There is a lot of effort to save bio-diversity, but very little to protect cultural diversity,” added Shankar whose organisation was recently fined by the National Green Tribunal for allegedly ruining the Yamuna floodplains.

Although Shankar’s interests in bringing peace to the North East, where several groups are fighting for complete or relative autonomy, go back more than a decade according to the spiritual guru’s associates in the region, it is only recently that they have been highlighted. In fact, it was just last month that Art of Living made news as a resolver of the conflict in the North East. “We don’t publicise our work,” Shankar insisted.

Restoring peace

On August 14, 68 militants belonging to a range of Manipuri Meitei insurgent groups surrendered their arms in a highly-publicised “homecoming ceremony” held at the 1st Manipur Rifles banquet hall in Imphal. The surrendered militants, according to the Manipur government, included 17 cadres from the United National Liberation Front, 23 from the various factions of the Kangleipak Communist Party, four from the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, seven People’s Liberation Army members and the rest from the Peoples’ Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and its breakaway “progressive” faction.

The event was attended by the chief minister, who in a series of tweets, attributed the surrender to the “guidance” of Shankar. Singh then went on to thank Shankar for “restoring peace” in Manipur through his “tireless efforts and blessings”.

Read more at https://scroll.in




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