86-year-old Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand sat on an indefinite fast in Haridwar on 22 June 2018 to demand making a law on conservation of river Ganga. Nobody came to see him from the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. He was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Haridwar but continued his fast there even after a month.
He had fasted earlier in 2008 for letting Bhagirathi flow uninterrupted between Gangotri and Uttarkashi in a stretch of 175 kms. Because of this fast, the government cancelled the 380 MW Bhairon Ghati and the 480 MW Pala-Maneri hydel power projects. In 2009, when he got the feeling that government was not serious about its commitment, he started a fast again and this time got the Loharinag-Pala hydel power project cancelled.
Before becoming a saint in 2011, Swami Sanand was known as Professor Guru Das Agarwal. He had earlier taught and done research at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and served as the Member-Secretary of Central Pollution Control Board.
He believes that just as hundreds of crores of rupees have gone down the drain in the name of Ganga Action Plan, now thousands of crores will be splurged in the name of Ganga River Basin Authority and Clean Ganga Mission by 2020. After Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, ‘Namami Gange’ project was launched with huge fanfare only to yield no results on the ground.
In 2011, a 34-year-old ascetic, Swami Nigamananda, died at the Jolly Grant Himalayan Institute Hospital in Dehradun on the 115th day of his fast to demand halt to illegal mining in Ganga when the Bharatiya Janata Party government was in power in Uttarakhand. It is suspected that a mining mafia considered close to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh connived with the administration and poison was injected into Swami Nigamananda’s body while he in the district hospital in Haridwar, where he had been admitted earlier before being shifted to the Himalayan Institute Hospital. Otherwise, it doesn’t explain why nobody on behalf of the government went to have a dialogue with him during the course of his long fast.
Now, 79-year-old Swami Agnivesh has been thrashed and abused in Jharkhand by members of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Swami Agnivesh is a follower of the Arya Samaj sect, which was founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and is based on the teachings of the four Vedas. The ten principles laid down by him as the philosophical basis of Arya Samaj ideology include: accept truth and reject untruth; take decision about every action based on Dharma after giving due thought to right and wrong; our objective must be the physical, spiritual and social well being of all; our conduct must be based on love, righteousness and justice; and that we must encourage knowledge and dispel ignorance.
Swami Agnivesh has fought against injustice all his life. From liberating bonded labourers, taking out a 18-day padyatra from Delhi to Deorala against Sati tradition, leading a movement for entry of Dalits in the Nathdwara temple near Udaipur, participating in campaign against female foeticide and launching a movement for ban on liquor, to constructive programmes like promotion of multi-faith harmony and establishing of Sarva Dharma Sansad (or All Faiths Parliament), he has been an activist all his life. He has not only lived according to the principles of the Hindu reformist movement of the Arya Samaj but has also served the higher goals of humanity. Swami Agnivesh is an ideal example of what a Hindu monk should be like. He is well respected within the country as well as abroad. His work for abolitioning bonded lab our has been recognised by United Nations as well, for which he was made the chairperson of the UN Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. He has won several prestigious international awards for his work, including the Right Livelihood Award (also famed as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize) in 2004 and the Freedom and Human Rights Award (Bern, Switzerland, 1994). Through him Hinduism has been projected in a good light, which is also because he has practiced Gandhian principles in his life. He has authored a book called Vedic Samajvad.
Swami Sanand and Agnivesh both put on saffron robes, are willing to take any risk for truth, and are committed to the path of non-violence, while also being celibates, vegetarians and scholarly. Both have given up comfortable lives. While Professor G.D. Agarwal quit his government job, Swami Agnivesh relinquished his Haryana assembly membership and ministership. Both have complete faith in Hinduism which guides their lives and actions. Swami Nigamananda sacrificed his life at a very young age. His faith in Hinduism is above question too.
The question then is, why don’t the Hindutva organisations RSS and BJP like monks such as these? Why is it that Hindutva organisations either completely ignore such monks or feel threatened by them, to the extent that they have to engineer attacks on them? Swami Nigamanand lost his life because the Hindutva forces were dominated by commercial interests with criminal intentions.
It is because people like Swami Nigamananda, Sanand and Agnivesh are truly dedicated Hindus. They don’t put up a show of being Hindus, and don’t use religion for political or commercial purposes. Is it not an irony that the RSS and the Hindutva organisations spawned by it consider such people living the ideals of Hinduism most truthfully as being opposed to them?
Swami Agnivesh and Sanand don’t hate Muslims, neither are they afraid of them. They don’t make provocative speeches which can trigger communal violence. They want to promote communal harmony and peace in society, not hatred, discrimination and violence. They don’t identify human beings according to their caste, religion or class. For them humanity is supreme. They behave courteously even with their adversaries.
If we think about it, what have these Hindutva organisations, which project themselves as the sole torch bearers of Hinduism, got to do with either the principles or spirit of Hindu religion? In some ways, such as by giving free hand to lumpen elements, they are actually tarnishing the image of Hindu religion.
It is up to the wider Hindu society to decide whether the people who take law into their hands and indulge in mob lynching of Muslims and Hindutva organisations like RSS–BJP who give patronage to them are the real representatives of Hindusim, or people like Swami Nigamanda, Sanand and Agnivesh?