My favourite people are at it again.
No, I am not talking about politicians.
I am not talking about business-people either.
And, neither am I talking about spiritual leaders.
I am talking about the faithful; the followers of the spiritual leaders.
They were there when a geriatric spiritual leader was accused of rape and forced confinement by two young women.
They were there, with their infirm and frail, thronging to the retreat of the spiritual leader who saw visions of some 15th century mystics, raised a private army and used children hostage as he kept law-enforcement agencies at bay with firearms.
And they are there, in thousands, at every townhall meeting held by another spiritual leader, popular on TV, who randomly imagines objects associated with a memory or experience a suffering devotee has shared; it could be a tree, a stone, a cow, or anything else. Anything. If the devotee is able to see the object imagined by this guru, the cure involves him doing an act suggested by the leader that he has not done before. If he has done that already, the cure requires him to stop doing it, or undoing it. In case he fails to see the object, which is rare, the burly security guards help him see the light.
I used to often lie awake at night, worrying for this leader. Since rape and firearm brandishing had already been taken, I would wonder if he had any means still at his disposal to distinguish himself in this crowded space.
But I needn’t have worried. Spiritual leaders will find a path.
The latest path laid out for my favourite people leads to the World Culture Festival being organised in Delhi. By yet another organisation run by yet another renowned spiritual leader. They will be there. In millions.
Because this is a private function, the army, funded by taxpayer money, has been called in to erect pontoon bridges over the Yamuna to make the venue accessible. And not without good reason. After all, as a ministry spokesperson has explained, do we want a rusty army to protect our borders? What better practice to keep them in shape than working like daily-wage labourers to construct a pontoon bridge for a private show. The shape that guarding the borders in frozen Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, or working as part of a multinational Peace Keeping Force operating under the UN banner in Africa, and many others, could not give them.
In addition, of course, to “in public interest”, that most transparent and explicit of terms.
To do their bit for the highly respected forces, patriotic citizens are sending invitations to the army to come and fix their light-bulbs and mow their lawns. What if I cannot guard the nation’s borders. I can contribute by keeping the armed forces in good shape. And because it will be “in public interest”. Such patriotism never fails to move me.
And because doing so has been banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the function is being held on the flood plains of the Yamuna, facilitated by No Objection certificates from several agencies. And because it is such a sensitive subject, the only other structure allowed to come up is an ancient temple constructed fifteen or so years back.
Apparently flood-plain destruction could lead to floods. But how is a spiritual leader, or anyone else, to know? Did anyone know that topography alteration and unchecked human activity on the riverside, could make the Uttarakhand floods a few years back so devastating, before the devastation happened? Could anyone know that haphazard construction along the banks of lakes, blocking channels which would have normally allowed rain water to drain out, would cause unprecedented floods in Chennai, before the floods happened? How is anyone to know that flood-plain destruction could lead to floods, before they actually happen?
The spiritual guru, himself, has spoken about how 100,000 volunteers had been releasing eco-enzymes into the Yamuna to improve the river’s water quality and the improvement could be gauged from the fact that water buffaloes, which had shunned the river in the past, had now come back to it. Since these enzymes have neither been tested by any scientific body for their efficacy, nor has the organisation asked for permission from the Central Board of Pollution Control before releasing them, what the guru is saying must be true. Moreover, these eco-enzymes are so effective that they do not appear to have been used for cleaning-up and other major river system.
Moreover, now the Central government has also given him a character certificate and clarified that his intentions cannot be doubted as he is committed to protecting the environment. They know.
In all fairness, the Delhi government has responded to the questions asked by NGT and washed its hands off the controversy, citing conflict of interest. They come into the picture only if there are floods, they have clarified. They have no role to play in preventing floods. And it is logical, they say. If they were to prevent floods from happening, how would they ever get to discharge their duty in the event of floods as there would be no floods.
Even Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has objected to being unfairly targeted by NGT. “We have only issued a No Objection certificate. It does not mean they start building. Where in our certificate does it say they can go ahead and build?”
The Prime Minister and President have been slated to participate as is a private function. Like they participate in private functions of the common man. The President, since, appears to have withdrawn.
An NGT bench has directed the organisers to pay Rupees 5 crores as environmental compensation, down from the 120 crores apparently being considered at one stage, and permitted the event to go ahead. As can be expected from a spiritual organisation, it does not appear to be facing any difficulty in paying this fairly substantial amount, even though it says it is considering an appeal in the Supreme Court against this order. So that my favourite people, with perhaps many political leaders, bureaucrats and business leaders in their ranks, can go and benefit from the spiritual experience that starts today.
A leading businessman, meanwhile, seeing an opportunity that only successful, seasoned businesspersons can, has applied to DDA for holding his daughter’s birthday party next month on the Yamuna flood-plains alongwith a request to the Army to serve drinks at the event, to keep them in shape and “in public interest”. At Rupees 5 crores (approx. USD 750,000) for 3 days for a space of 48 acres, that could be illegally expanded to cover a thousand acres, it sounds like a great bargain. The Yamuna flood-plains could become the most sought-after Party Hall yet.