Friday, 18 November 2011

A Day with Swami Agnivesh soon after The Big Boss Show

All informed and concerned citizens know about Swami Agnivesh as he has been an iconic figure in the public life since 1960s. You may like him or dislike him for his views, activities and vision but who can ignore him! He is recognized as a radical Sanyasi. He has earned a place of honour in the Indian society as a fearless social reformer for the last five decades. At the same time, he has been also at the centre of several controversies. But each occasion made him more well-known and more significant. Presently he has attracted national attention due to three controversial situations – first of all due to his failed role as interlocutor between the Maoists of Chattisgarh and the state of India, then due to his open disagreement with Team Anna about the tactics of anti-corruption movement  and more recently for  his participation in Big Boss TV show .

I have also known him and about him since 1970s – first from some distance and later quite closely. We have participated together in a large number of political initiatives since the days of JP Movement for Total Revolution. Getting him to share his reflections about Dr. Rammanohar Lohia for a Lohia Centenary Number of Akaar (Kanpur) in October, 2010 and interacting with him in the Jaipur and Allahabad Conferences of Lok Rajniti Manch in 2010 - 11 were my last social activities with him.  He came to JNU in late April of this year after the Dantewada episode to invite to join a group of concerned citizens to pressurize the government to adopt a developmental approach to engage the people of the Red Corridor rather than the prevailing militaristic solutions. I failed to fulfill his expectations due to a number of constraints including time and resources and he was not happy with it.
But the organizers of Commander Arjun Singh Bhadauria Centenary Programme at Etawah gave me a special opportunity to be continuously with him and his close associate Shri Manu Singh (a former student activist of JNU) for 18 hours soon after he came out of his three days in the Big Boss
Show.  The Centenary Programme was being organized by the people of Etawah with the initiative of the associates of Commander Sahab and as well as the colleagues of Shri Sudhindra Bahadauria. Socialist freedom fighter Bhadauria ji was one of my socialist heroes since 1960s. Swami Agnivesh ji was also associated with him since the JP movement days.  They became close to each other in the Janata Party and Janata Dal phases of national politics.  
Swamiji had come to New Delhi from Mumbai after the Big Boss Show shootings on the night of 11th Nov. and the next day early morning I joined him at 6am at the national office of Bandhua Mukti Morcha at Janatar Mantar to catch Shatabdi Express to reach Etawah.  Inspite of a great role in the freedom struggle, socialist movement, Anti-Emergency resistance and the anti – corruption movement led by Shri V.P. Singh, Etawah is one of the most neglected districts of central Uttar Pradesh. It is at the bank of Chambal River and is also a meeting point of U.P., M.P. and Rajasthan. It is at a distance of 300 kms from New Delhi and represents ‘Bharat’ in so many ways. It takes 4 hours to reach there by fast trains.
We began our journey by looking at several Hindi and English newspapers. Then came the opportunity to exchange our concerns and ideas about the present national situation, including the challenges and opportunities, while sitting next to each other in the Shatabdi Express Chair Car seats. We also heard each other in the public meeting while remembering Shri Arjun Singh Bhadauria and Mata Sarala Bhadauria and their contributions towards the national movement, socialist movement, J.P. movement, and later movements for social justice and dignity to weaker sections, communal harmony and protecting the interests of workers, peasants and weavers. My day with him ended with watching the last episode of his stay in Big Boss Show at his residence around 11pm after returning to New Delhi.
What were the key points in the public speech and press statements of Swami Agnivesh at Etawah?  He began in a very personal way by sharing his life journey as an Arya Samaji Sanyasi after leaving the job of a college teacher and a High Court lawyer in 1965 at Kolkata. He told the audience about his moments of successes and failures of the last five decades of public engagement.  Then he brought the audience to the present situation by reminding that the country is not moving forward as the United Nations Human Development Report of 2011 has found us lagging behind at 137th rank in the global comity of nations. The condition of Kisans, workers and handicraft based occupations is miserable. The crisis of governance is growing in every part of India except a few metropolitan centres. So we have to start with political reforms, particularly the election system and the governance apparatus.  We need leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan who did not allow personal egos to come in between the need of the hour and their initiatives.
What is the plan of Swami Agnivesh beyond team Anna and Big Boss? He was going to offer his services to create conducive conditions to bring together all positive forces. It will be his effort that the anti-corruption movement gets strengthened by not only Team Anna but a much larger force of Team India. He feels that it is important to be creating a situation of ‘creative tension’ in our relationship with power elite irrespective of their political identity. It will be wrong to become partisan. Only this will maximize our impact. It is imperative to facilitate inclusion of all the concerned.  Give space to all the active groups for realizing people’s potential for collective action for a better tomorrow. He concluded  by giving a call for organizing a rally of 1 Lakh people after four months in Etawah to give support to the national dream of a corruption free India under the leadership of Team India. He was confident this rally will set a new pattern of people’s participation at the district level all over the Awadh and Agra region which has been always one of the most mobilized zones of people’s action since the days of freedom struggle and socialist movements due to the selfless leaders like Arjun Singh Bhadauria and Sarala Bhadauria.
I got to listen to various elaborations of these comments in a variety of exchanges between Swamiji, political activists, media persons and general people, particularly young men and women throughout the day.  There were several phone calls from different corners of India and abroad. Then there were interactions during the train journey between a variety of persons and Swamiji. They came to Swami Agnivesh ji to convey their ask questions. To share concerns. Also to pay respect.  Many of them got themselves photographed with him. Several students and youth also requested him for some message and autograph. A few expressed their surprise that why he was in the train as they were expecting him to continue in the Big Boss Show! A medical graduate woman came to get his blessings for her next examinations while a small group of girl students led by their teacher wanted to invite him to their school in Kanpur. A middle aged professional came to express his resentment about the growing distance between Team Anna and Swami Agnivesh as he thought that it is not in the interest of our national hope to have a corruption free India.
Did he get tired at the end of all this – 8 hours of sitting in Chair Car and 4 hours of public meeting! One hour of public lecture and then one hour of press conference and no time for sleep or rest. I asked as we got down from the train at New Delhi Railway Station around 10.15pm. He agreed that it was a long day but he was feeling satisfied and happy as it was a day of many positive events and engagements. He also felt that the response in the Etawah programme was very encouraging as he felt that there was sincerity and enthusiasm among the people, particularly the youth. He thought that there is the possibility of a greater mobilisation than the J.P. Movement, only if we may bring at least five hundred sincere people and locally active groups together across the country who will be prepared to work together for a year or so with mutual trust and cooperation.
Indeed, it was a very special journey with a very significant face of active India who has the rare power of connecting with the men and women of all ages and classes and regions. This radical Sanyasi is in no mood to allow a few controversies to detract him from his goals which were set five decades ago as they look nearer to him than ever before. Provided he is able to protect the spirit of creative tension as well as is able to succeed in convincing the fellow activists about the need and method of connecting with the people around  not any individual, but the great dream of a better tomorrow for all of us.


  1. A good one Sir ....
    A day with Swami. The best thing is special mention of generating creative tensions. But is our Society mature enough to understand the importance of such ideas. I don't talk about the intellectual society of JNU or other institutes. I ask about the group who protested for ati-corruption India and slowly were made to change track to anti- congress India.
    Will he be able to initiative of having another JP movement rather than a Congress-BJP swap in governance?

  2. Dear Sir, late evening on 19th November I was in JNU attending the alumni meet officially and actually missing you all through. I was asking myself: why is it that coming to JNU is slowing becoming synonymous with listening to or meeting Anand Jee?

    The answer has come via your post on Swami Agnivesh. You have never let yourself overwhelmed by any particularity: ideology, region, subject, et al.That is why you are of JNU and yet much beyond it. You through your teaching and action have taught generations of students in JNU and elsewhere the real meaning of education: the ability to connect the apparently unconnected things. This demands monumental openness which I prefer to call Upanishdic Wisdom. Your profile of a journey with the Swami is no less a profile of yourself.

    Our education system, particularly the universities, have lost this capacity of creating studentship with this ability to find connection with things not available in the library. Thank God, you carry with you the library that draws its books from the bookstalls of life.

    Thank you Sir, for having written this post on Swami Agnivesh in a manner that is reminiscent of essays written during the social reform movement in India. It is analytical, it is simple, it is lyrical in its impact, and above all, demonstrates freedom of thought.
    Lucky are those who are/were your students and yet no less lucky are those who were not your students officially but have got to learn more from your life and informal interactions. I belong to the latter category.

    May you live long to continue doing what the 21st century India needs the most!