Those in power take advantage of a divided Ganga movement.
Numerous saints, activists and environmentalists are actively trying to save the river Ganga, but their efforts have not yielded results. The Ganga cleaning drive is unable to become a mass movement for one simple reason –politics. The politics among the saints and their egos aren’t bringing the Ganga saviours on the same page.
Those moaning the death of IIT professor-turned-Ganga warrior G.D. Agrawal the most are the same who were not even speaking with him when he was alive.
Somehow, after Agrawal’s demise, a picture has been doing the rounds, which shows him purportedly lying on the lap of Avimukteshwaranand, his spiritual guru. But the fact is that Agrawal had stopped speaking with his guru because he felt the latter had betrayed Ganga.
A sense of betrayal
Agrawal started a hunger strike on 14 January 2012 to save the free flow of Ganga. Acknowledging the sensitivity of the matter, the PMO on 22 March had assured him that they were willing to discuss his demands.
He was later brought to AIIMS Delhi where then-coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and PMO aide V. Narayanasamy arrived with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s message. They announced that in the upcoming special meeting on 17 April, he would be the special guest and set the agenda. They asked him to bring five saints with him.
The 17 April meeting was crucial for G.D. Agrawal. His list of five accompanying saints included his guru Avimukteshwaranand, Shankaracharya Nishchalanand Saraswati, Ramanandacharya Swami Hansdevacharya, Pramod Krishnan and Sivananda Saraswati. However, preparations were already underway to sabotage this crucial meeting.
On the morning of 17 April, Agrawal woke up early in his private ward at AIIMS, bathed, prayed to his guru’s picture and started getting ready. Just then, his doctor arrived with a team and reportedly told him that he wasn’t fully fit to go out and that he will not be able to attend the meeting.
Agrawal was shocked because he was told the previous day that he could go anywhere. Agrawal and his associate tried explaining the doctor that his presence at the meeting was important. The medical team, however, allegedly pinned Agrawal to his bed and put him on a drip. Agrawal could not attend the meeting with the PM.
As a result, Manmohan Singh’s meeting with other saints and environmentalists turned out to be a mere formality. Agrawal’s guru Avimukteshwaranand attended the meeting and had reportedly drawn up a fresh list of representatives for it.
Here, it is important to note that Avimukteshwaranand is the disciple of Swaroopananda, thereby making him the future shankaracharya of two peeths. It is an open secret that Swaroopananda is a Congress-supported shankaracharya. The Congress has always supported his claim over the shankaracharya peetha located in Badrinath.
Puri’s shankaracharya, Swami Nischalananda, was reportedly sent the invitation for the 17 April meeting a day before, and therefore could not attend it. Ramanandacharya Swami Hansdevacharya’s name was allegedly removed from the list too. In the place of these two saints, Shia religious leader Kalbe Jawad and Jain saint Lokesh Muni were included.
After the meeting, Agrawal realised that both his fellow sants and the government had betrayed him. But by then, it was too late. G.D. Agrawal had become a puppet in the hands of institutions, babas and shankaracharyas who were in a tussle to earn political brownie points through Ganga activism. After this incident, he distanced himself from Avimukteshwaranand and started living in Matri Sadan in Haridwar.
Another saint, another strike
But things are not fine at Matri Sadan either.
A saint named Gopal Das was on a hunger strike (and still is) at the same time when G.D. Agrawal was holding his hunger strike at Matri Sadan over Ganga. Since Gopal Das didn’t have a direct connection with Matri Sadan, he held his hunger strike in Haryana, Rishikesh or Badrinath.
In the aftermath of Agrawal’s martyrdom, Das came to Matri Sadan and wished to continue his hunger strike from there. Ashram head Shivanand placed him at Agarwal’s seat and reportedly announced that if the government wanted blood, saints were willing to sacrifice themselves, one after the other for Ganga.
Two days later, Gopal Das locked himself in Agrawal’s room and wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in blood. The administration officials rushed to break open the door of the room, and took him to AIIMS, Rishikesh. Gopal Das is currently admitted in AIIMS, Delhi, and is continuing his hunger strike from there.
After this incident, Shivanand decided not to let Gopal Das come back to Matri Sadan. It was said that Gopal Das was hurting the dignity of the Ganga movement. Matri Sadan said that it was against violence and condemned Gopal Das’ act of writing a letter in blood. Gopal Das, by now, had become the darling of the media and the face of the Ganga movement.
He never returned to Matri Sadan and continued his agitation from Triveni Ghat, Rishikesh. The administration has now brought him to Delhi. However, in the meantime, two saints at Matri Sadan, Brahmachari Atmabodhanand and Swami Punyanand, have started a hunger strike.
A divided Ganga movement
Matri Sadan is emerging as an epicentre of rebellious sanyasees fighting for the Ganga, but several other saints and environment activists are also simultaneously carrying out hunger strikes at over a 100 places across the country. All of them together have never shared a common platform.
Besides these saints, there are a thousand NGOs that earn their livelihood using Ganga’s name. Some of them are serious about their work, but are afraid to speak up as they depend on government for funds. Several credible institutions are working on Ganga, but they hardly ever agree with each other.
Meanwhile, Gopal Das too doesn’t have full public support from the saint community. Some are known to have labelled him a fraud. Those in power take advantage of a divided Ganga movement. This is the reason why no official from the Ganga ministry has visited Gopal Das so far.
Even before G.D. Agrawal, Matri Sadan has been involved in several such hunger strikes over Ganga and environment protection. It first hit the headlines after the death of Ganga crusader Swami Nigamanand. With G.D. Agrawal, it has become the epicentre of Ganga activism. But Matri Sadan, Ganga abhiyan or Ganga action family has to decide what is more important – to merely be a flag-bearer of the Ganga movement or to be the real sons/daughters of the Ganga.
The writer is a senior journalist