Is Making Army Soldiers Work At Sri Sri’s Event The ‘Right’ Use Of Taxpayer Money?

Posted on March 11, 2016 in Society

By Yadul Krishna:

Army soldiers paint railings on a pontoon bridge laid in the waters of the Yamuna river to reach the venue of the World Culture Festival on the banks of the river in New Delhi, India, March 10, 2016. Indian environmentalists are aghast that a huge cultural festival is to be held on the floodplain of Delhi's main river from Friday, warning that the event, and the 3.5 million visitors expected, will devastate the area's biodiversity. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee - RTSA6GR
Image credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee.

In the past few weeks, we have been seeing the nation going gaga over various issues relating to nationalism, freedom of speech, public or ‘taxpayers” money misused in Jawaharlal Nehru University, etc. The Nobel laureate Amartya Sen once said, “The success of a society is to be evaluated primarily by the freedoms that members of the society enjoy.” But this right to speech wasn’t allowed to be enjoyed smoothly in the varsity. Students were manhandled and arrested on sedition charges, and teachers were attacked.

One of the comments that came from the Sangh Parivar and the so-called ‘nationalists’ against the incidents that took place in JNU lately was that the expenses of the students pursuing their studies at JNU were met by the general public and the money was meant for studies and not for politics or protests. Various left organsations at that time came forward and put into words that even their studies had become a struggle.

But their patriotism for the nation and ‘public funds’ suddenly took an unexpected u-turn when it came to their beloved Guruji, their spirituality marketer. The army that they had been proudly telling us about as the sentinel heroes who guard our frontiers in Siachen, were made to labour for a private programme to be conducted by the Art of Living Foundation. When it comes to dissent in JNU, for them, it can happen only because of the security provided by the soldiers guarding our borders. But when it comes to Sri Sri, the efforts of our soldiers don’t actually have much value. Aren’t these double standards?

If the studies in JNU are funded by the general public (including the leftists as well as other sections with various political and apolitical ideologies), isn’t the Indian Army, made to work here, also funded by the general public including me and you? Why do we fund the defense sector with such a big share of the public budget? Is it to build stages and bridges for these Godmen and make the soldiers work as unpaid labourers? Instead of protecting our borders and people, 120 soldiers have been made to spend over a week building two temporary bridges that will float on the Yamuna river. On what grounds is this act justified by the government? The constitutional mandate for our soldiers is to help the implementation of the Constitution and not to turn them into cheap labourers who work in the interest of someone who is friendly with the ruling dispensation.

Apparently, the soldiers have become an unpaid labour force that can be hired out to set up private parties. It should be noted that it is not a national or a state ceremony but a private event that will be attended by Sri Sri’s devotees over three days, as told, including the prime minister of India, who is the one who should be ensuring that the job of a soldier is respected. It seems that in their 35th-anniversary festival, this Yamuna cultural extravaganza is being used by the Art of Living to spread the message that the art of misusing army is also a part of their ‘art of living’. Hindu Mahasabha’s Swami Omjee, who has a history of giving death threats, has threatened an environmentalist for opposing the ‘Art of Living’ event and said, “You will suffer the same fate as Narendra Dabholkar.”

The National Green Tribunal had already questioned the authorisation of this event earlier. The Delhi government has pointed out to the National Green Tribunal that the event had no police or fire safety clearances. The NGT has come down hard on the Delhi Development Authority and has fined the Art of Living Foundation Rs. five crores for damaging the Yamuna floodplain and ecosystem, as well as surrounding farmlands to be paid before the event begins. NGT panel’s report says, “The floodplain has been destroyed; the natural vegetation consisting of reeds, and trees have been completely removed.”

According to CNN-IBN, almost 80 farmers have gone on a hunger strike against Sri Sri’s event claiming that their farmland had been converted into parking lots. A united Opposition in the Rajya Sabha slammed the government on Wednesday (9th March) for allowing the Indian Army to be used for a private event of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury in the Parliament questioned the government on deploying the Army for such purposes and has stated that it’s “highly irregular.”

Even the Rashtrapati Bhavan, in a statement that it issued, said that President Pranab Mukherjee, who was to preside over the valedictory function on March 13, will stay away from the event!