Controversy about World Culture Festival : Is it really about Yamuna or something else?


Had Sri Sri Ravi Shankar been an ardent Modi critic, would all these negative publicity and sudden bout of Yamuna concern have happened? Point to Ponder.

Pathikrit Payne

Finally the World Culture Festival is happening. But for the last one week or so, the nation witnessed the sudden loss of sleep and huge concern shown by India’s Limousine Liberals about Yamuna River. They are termed Limousine Liberals because many of them are those who can’t live without their air-conditioning systems, mineral water bottles and of course their expensive sedans. Carbon emissions are not an issue then.

They belong to the same pack which remembers the dark skinned impoverished face of a poor kid only on the day of Shiva Ratri when milk is poured on the Linga as part of a ritual and tweet people to feed milk to such kids instead of pouring it on the deity. Solemn thought indeed but do they carry it forward themselves by feeding such hapless kids every day of the year instead of pontificating onShiva Ratri?

Well, the rest of the time, those millions of hapless kids don’t matter for the liberal brigade just like their archetypal concern for animals which they show just on the night of Diwali to advocate against use of firecrackers since they terrify dogs and other animals. A justifiable argument indeed but what often bemuses the mundane audience is how the same crème de la crème of activists at the same time keep no stone unturned to advocate the right to beef and go on a global condemnation if it is prohibited even for a week. Killing the animal is fine but terrifying him is not good. So much for a ‘liberal’ logic.

From Kanhaiya to Yamuna…Is there a Connect?

Nevertheless, it was barely a week back when the same lot that was cheerleading for Kanhaiya Kumar and JNU. For the last one month they were busy discovering India’s new found intolerance. Of course, ask them to compare India’s liberal environment with that of whatever exists in China, Russia, Saudi Arab or even USA, chances are high they would shy away from a debate.

Ask them about the 8000 sedition cases filed against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant agitators during 2012-13, they may avoid the discussion or feign ignorance. But nevertheless they discovered intolerance in India in the last one year and since it is being proclaimed by India’s Limousine Liberals, so it has to be accepted that India is intolerant (sic!!) or else whoever counters the same would be termed intolerant fascist or a Bhakt. They shouted from roof tops and from subsidized campuses that India is intolerant and it was broadcasted by their cheerleaders across the world without any censorship by Government of India. But India is still intolerant.

Was Yamuna a Paradise before preparations of World Culture Festival Started?

And then came the World Culture Festival. After having rescued tolerance from the clutches of intolerance, it was time to rescue Yamuna. Suddenly for India’s messiah activists, nothing mattered more than the environment of India and destiny of Yamuna. Irony must have died a thousand deaths on hearing it. Some news channels have been giving all their prime time slots dedicated to this issue only.

The hype is as if till yesterday Yamuna was a river in paradise and its floodplains were comparable to the kind of flora and fauna present in the Amazon rainforest and as if suddenly because of the WCF, it has been reduced a heap of debris.

For decades Yamuna’s banks were nothing but a pile-up of filth and garbage. For decades, flood plains of Yamuna have witnessed massive illegal encroachments though vote bank politics made sure no activism against it is entertained. But activism against Art of Living Foundation and World Culture Festival (WCF) is a different issue. It gives publicity, no vote bank gets affected and on the contrary becomes a nice way to corner and discredit those who played a key role in bringing the current dispensation to power in the Centre and change the power equation of the Lutyens. Indeed a deplorable crime for some which cannot go unpunished !!

Reality Check for Yamuna

Anyone who stays in Delhi or the NCR region and often cross the Yamuna by metro or otherwise would know what the condition of the Yamuna has been for decades now and how it has been reduced to a drain. It is nothing more than a wastewater pit where all kinds of chemical wastes are dumped from industrial belts.

If one crosses the bridge in Kalindi Kunj, one would find the water flowing below having nothing but foam. Did Media make an effort to think about Yamuna all those years when with much fanfare successive Delhi Governments flagged off Yamuna clean-up programs and thousands of crores were spent on it without any visible change? An article published in The Economic Times on Jan,08, 2016 , written by Dhananjoy Mahapatra ( stated that over the last 22 years, more than Rs 5,000 crore has been spent on Yamuna. And it still stinks. Have our activists tried to find out where that Rs 5000 Crore went? Did anyone ask those who have been in power in Delhi for the last 15 years?

Why was Yanni’s Concert and Commonwealth Games Fine but not WCF?

On the controversies engineered related to the World Cultural Festival Program, let us take the example of another similar event. In March 1997 world famous music composer Yanni had a concert in Agra from March 20 -22. For three consecutive nights he performed on the back side of the iconic Taj Mahal and on the banks of River Yamuna. Where were the activists and environmentalists then? Was Yamuna not affected then? Or is it that it did not matter then because it was not NDA but United Front which was in power at the Centre?

For that matter, did any of those opposing it now, raise questions about the impact on Yamuna when 118 acres of Yamuna’s floodplains were used for the construction of the Commonwealth Games Village for the 2010 Commonwealth Games? Was it stopped or was anyone fined? Or is it that in 2010 it was fine to have that event but in 2016, owing to the fact that power shifts have happened, this event becomes unacceptable for some?

Is it really about Yamuna or Something Else? What about Maramon Convention?

Therefore the moot question that needs to be asked is whether Yamuna and environmental issues were the real reasons for opposing Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s event or is there something more to it? Anyone has the right to file a petition with NGT and NGT is well within its right to impose a fine or cancel an event just as the defense counsel has the right to challenge the verdict of NGT in a court. But the reason why this question amidst the sudden spate of heightened activism, has become important to ask is because there are some other very similar cultural or religious festivals which have been happening for long time and questions remain as to whether they have ever been opposed or not.

One key such event is the Maramon Convention. This convention, which is touted as one of the largest Christian conventions in Asia, takes place in the sand-beds of River Pampa next to Kozhencherry Bridge near the Maramon church in Maramon, PathanamthittaKerala.

This convention has been taking place for several decades now. What about the environmental issues related to such an event where more than a million people congregate in sand beds of a major river? Or is it that it is perfect to do such things when it is not done by Swami Ramdev or Sri Sri’s Organization? Is it perfect when it is done by missionaries?

The Saga of Pontoon Bridges built by Indian Army

The other issue is that of Indian Army being used for making a few pontoon bridge. All hell broke loose for India’s self proclaimed gatekeepers of Libertéégalitéfraternité. Suddenly they have too much concern for those jawans of Indian Army for whom otherwise, many from the liberal breed have shown considerable disdain from time to time.

The same people who even gave primacy to Umar Khalid’s arrest to the death of Captain Pawan Kumar a few days back, have suddenly got much concerned for Indian Army and have even brought out fairytale stories about how some of those deployed in remote Siachen were now being deployed for World Cultural Festival ( Sic!!).

While nothing can be far from the truth, the real question is how come some of those who in normal course of discussions would always advocate demilitarization of Siachen have suddenly become so concerned for troop deployments in Siachen?

Well not many people expect many such armchair columnists to know that the Indian Army has several units across the National Capital Region and it does not need to bring anyone from Siachen.

Secondly, pontoon bridges are not needed in permafrost regions of Siachen. And thirdly it was the same Indian Army whose help was sought to build two pontoon bridges as well as for building the approach roads to those bridges, for the purpose of Yanni’s concert. The Indian Army regularly builds pontoon bridges during Kumbh Mela and did the same for Commonwealth Games as well. Did anyone hear anyone complaining then?

Almost on a daily basis, even for recovering a child from a borewell, the Army is called in. On every instance of natural calamity, it is the Indian Army which is called in even when it is not Army’s job but that of the civilian administrations. However, knowing the level of competence of local administrations, people and even state governments often prefer to seek help from the Army, in situations of emergencies in the greater interest of people. It is not just for the highest level of professionalism but also because of the availability of requisite skills and equipment that gives the Indian Army a considerable edge over civilian agencies.

The World Culture Festival- A Global Indian Event, Not a Local City Event

The reason why the World Cultural Festival needed Army’s intervention in terms of assisting in the construction of temporary bridges is because the World Cultural Festival cannot be termed a mere private event.

When an event has participation from 155 countries with over 172 international dignitaries and where 3.5 million people are expected to congregate coupled with artistic performance by 33,000 artists, it is no more a mere city level event but an international event and which needs institutional support from the nation.

In many ways, the size, aura, reach, spread and participation in the World Cultural Festival is much more than that of either Commonwealth Games or Yanni’s Concert. It is therefore extremely important to make sure that such an Olympic level event on cultural convergence and pluralism get executed without any untoward incident. It is a collective responsibility of the nation and not just of Art of Living Foundation.

From the time it became amply clear that it was none other than a key minister of AAP Government who had written for the Army’s assistance, some of loudmouth activists have toned down their war cry and perhaps sulking as the onus of blame can no more be on the Central Government.

A Global Event on Cultural Convergence and Pluralism – Should Our Liberal Champions not be the First to Welcome it?

As stated earlier, World Culture Festival is one of its kinds of global events on cultural convergence and pluralism. This all-accommodating global summit on spirituality reinforces two fundamental pillars of Indian spirituality as defined by sanskrit phrases i.e. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which in literal terms mean the whole world is a family and Ekam satt vipra bahudha vadantimeaning there is one fundamental truth but sages and the knowledgeable call it by different names. These two slokas from Upanishad and Rig Veda also essentially define the core essence of universalism as well as the acceptance of the divergent views that has been the hallmark of Indian philosophy.

If such an event is now happening in India, one wonders as to why those who were throwing tantrums about India becoming intolerant a few days back now suddenly sitting with grim faces? Should they not be the first ones to come and celebrate this festival? Should, the champions of liberal secular democracy not be the first ones to volunteer to see that this program becomes a grand success?

The Issue of Environment

Coming to the point of environment, just who are these people trying to teach the core essence of conservation to Art of Living Foundation? Are they trying to teach conservation to an organization which has till date rejuvenated 16 dying rivers and planted 55 million trees? Are they trying to teach social responsibilities to an organization which provides holistic free education to more than 50,000 impoverished and helpless children in more than 400 schools across 20 states of India?

Recent media reports have even stated that AAP Government in Delhi has been taking proactive steps to rope in Art of Living Foundation for creating a mass movement for cleaning up Yamuna. In fact both Swami Ramdev and Sri Sri Rav Shankar have been actively involved with both Namami Gange and Swachh Bharat programs. Yamuna needs a clean-up and no one can do it better than through the initiatives of Art of Living Foundation. Time will prove it.

On a concluding note, one is simply forced to ponder a pertinent issue. Had Sri Sri Ravi Shankar been an ardent Modi critic, would all these negative publicity and sudden bout of Yamuna concern have happened? Just who is orchestrating it? Point to Ponder.

Nevertheless the success of the event would reinforce India’s potential as a global spiritual centre and a place where the divergent converge. Let the show begin.


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  • whatever said there will be some amount of negative effect to the area, not to mention the traffic irritation , noise pollution , waste of water etc besides it is not a big amount for AOL to pay .They can think it as service to Mother earth /mother India and Pay.BTW I am not Modi critic .

  • Agree , that AOL can pay as a GOODWILL , but not by threat, communal discrimination VS other events and Blackmailing by spreading false information