The Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is on a tour of Bihar these days to create, besides other things, awareness among the voters about their franchise and guide them in taking what he considers to be the right decision in this crucial parliamentary elections. The Godman shared his views on politics and spirituality with Abdul Qadir at his Bodh Gaya ashram on Sunday evening.
What is the purpose of your Bihar tour?
It is two-fold. I had to see for myself the development of the Bodh Gaya ashram. Besides that, I am also here to create awareness among the voters about their right to franchise to ensure their cent per cent participation in the election process and help them make the right decisions while exercising their franchise. But let me make it clear that being a spiritual leader, I shall not campaign for or against any political party or candidate.
Now that you are trying to create voter awareness, let me know your views on what kind of government the nation needs.
I am very clear in my mind that coalition governments have weakened the system and virtually played havoc with the economy. Another spell of coalition government may be disastrous for the country and in that situation, the dollar may touch the 100-rupee mark to make the economy extremely weak. Moreover, we need a strong government to send the right message to the muscle-flexing neighbours and for that reason too, the country needs a strong government. Never in the last sixty years has the economy been so much in disarray with industrial production registering negative growth to the extent of minus 2.5%. We need a government that is strong and not marred by corruption.
Going by your idea of what the next government should be like, does Narendra Modi fit the bill to be the PM?
Being a spiritual leader I cannot take sides but you are free to draw inferences which may or may not be correct. It is for the people to decide what to do. I am only expressing my opinion. If the people think that UPA can provide a strong and honest government let them vote UPA to power. Who am I to dictate their choice? I can only tell them what was in the best national interest and "khichdi' governments are certainly not in the national interest.
You favour a strong and non-corrupt government, but the traits of 'strong leadership' and commitment to fight corruption, as per the popular perception is to be found in two different parties, as the party claiming to provide strong leadership has its own heavy baggage of corruption?
If you mean the AAP, they are just toddlers in the field of politics and governance. It will be too premature to take them seriously. Let them do the political apprenticeship first by running a state government. Governance is a very serious business and AAP has to cover a lot of ground. They (AAP) are not in the reckoning.
History shows that strong leaders tend to be dictatorial, autocratic and anti-democratic. What is your opinion?
We are a very mature democracy and the system is well in place. The people will throw leaders who show anti-democratic and dictatorial traits out of power. We must trust our people and institutions. They will never allow the weakening of the democratic institutions.
Do you not think that Godmen should directly join politics to cleanse the system from within?
Politics does not mean elections alone. Godmen have done a lot of positive things in the field of politics. I regard Gandhiji and Vinoba Bhave as Godmen who have done a lot of good work in politics. However, electoral politics is something else and Godmen (as you call religious and spiritual leaders) need not join the electoral race.
Do you not think that in the recent past the credibility of Godmen/holy men have witnessed some erosion?
True that some unfortunate things have happened. But it would not be proper to jump to conclusions. In any case, everybody has to be innocent until proven guilty and this also applies to people who you call Godmen. In case such people (Godmen) are proved guilty, they must be awarded double punishment as, besides breaking the law, they also break people's faith and confidence. In my opinion, the media has been less than fair while reporting such things. For example, the murder charge against the Shankaracharya got 225 hours of airtime on TV channels and his (Shankaracharya's) subsequent acquittal was given only eight minutes.
What is the relationship between money and happiness?
No doubt money was needed to lead a comfortable life but beyond that money does not necessarily bring happiness. Happiness comes through spirituality. Citizens of developed nations are more or less an unhappy lot and for that reason, GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) is gradually replacing GDP as a country's growth indicator.
You have come to Bihar after a gap of two years. Do you notice any change?
I came only yesterday and I have little occasion to go outside. But I found Mahabodhi Temple to be much cleaner and better maintained. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said about the Vishnupad temple. There was lot of filth around the Vishnupad temple. We must keep our religious places clean. I have asked people to do something to make the Vishnupad area clean. But as compared to the days when there was curfew-like situation from early evening and people lived in fear in the state, a lot of change for the better has taken place.
During your last visit you promised jobs to the local youth. To what extent has the promise been met?
We are running several skill development centres including one at Aurangabad and young men and women trained at these centres have got jobs in companies like Larsen and Turbo. More than 50% of the employees at our Bangalore ashram are from Bihar.
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Nation needs strong, corruption-free govt: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar