In a newspaper interview published today, Mr. Ravi Shankar again reiterated that he would never pay a fine. He said he agreed to pay the compensation to develop the Yamuna floodplains. He also said that the farmers were happy with the compensation amount given by his Art of Living Foundation.

He lashed out at his critics for trying to paint his event in a negative light. He said the successful management of the World Culture Festival (WCF), which was even bigger than the Olympics and the FIFA soccer world cup events, should silence everyone. He said the place where the event was organised was a dumping ground and his Foundation would develop it into a beautiful biopark.

So, in a way, Mr. Ravi Shankar has further toughened his stand from what he was earlier saying.

But he is not realizing that this stand is so anti-middle class – ‘audacity of privilege’ – as one article described it. It is a well-established fact that popular sentiments tend to be with the weaker sections. Here Mr. Ravi Shankar sounded like an adamant powerbroker while those who were opposing his event were seen as working for a just cause. The sentiment was further augmented by the hostile comments that the WCF got from the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal.

Mr. Ravi Shankar may have pure intent but when you address masses to convey your viewpoints, it is not your intent, but your words that echo.

And the impression that have had loud echoes during all this WCF row is that Mr. Ravi Shankar acted as if he was above all – above the rule of law – above those activists crying hoarse – and above the common men who bore the brunt of incessant traffic nightmares in a city that is already reeling under the intense chaos of some 80 lakh vehicles making traffic snarls a daily routine.

That has not gone down well with masses, especially the target group that forms the support base of sages or religious gurus like Mr. Ravi Shankar – the urban middle class, the educated youth and the middle-age professionals.

The great Indian middle class that is projected to become the largest middle class base in the world by 2030 – a market of some 450 million people, as BBC and Harvard Business Review reports put it.

Just scroll through social media platforms and you can see the anger there.

Also, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is not Baba Ramdev.

The brand appeal that Mr. Ravi Shankar has is for classes while Ramdev has become a mass phenomenon. We need to accept that with the rapid strides his Patanjali brand of household products are making.

And another development that lends more justifications to the questions raised on the event is the cropping up of advertisements of Sri Sri Ayurveda products with the WCF. There is nothing wrong in trying to build outreach for your products but what about timing? The ‘purely’ marketing exercise just doesn’t gel with the tall claims of ‘world peace and humanitarianism’.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –


Till the World Culture Festival happened, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Mr. Ravishankar was probably a figure from a very small group of religious gurus in India who were more or less non-controversial. Mr. Ravishankar enjoyed a widespread support with a reputation of being ‘an efficient mediator in conflict resolution’.

Not anymore!

And the sharpest reflection of that sentiment is addressing him as ‘Mr. Ravishankar’ and not as ‘Sri Sri’, something that had become synonymous with him. Yes, many consciously tried to do it after the controversy on the World Culture Festival erupted and the stand that Mr. Ravishankar took – like he would rather go to jail than paying the fine asked by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) or that it was not a fine but a cess that he agreed to give.

The impression went that he took on law, that he bent it and blatantly tried to convey that he was far beyond it, that he was above all. And there would be many more than the participants or the audience at the World Culture Festival to share this feeling.

There was also another development that didn’t go unnoticed from those who are open minded about society and its religious extensions – a large, urban middle class, the prospective target audience of a spiritual-religious guru like Mr. Ravishankar, that builds and nurture its opinion based on logical thinking and rational perceptions.

In addition to harbouring a natural grudge, a middle class phenomenon, on abuse of authority and power that went into organizing the World Culture Festival, there is another spectacle that can hardly go unnoticed – that further questions the ‘noble intent’.

I, personally, did not have seen television commercials of ‘Sri Sri Ayurveda’ products before it, before the row (or frenzy for some) over the World Culture Festival. But, in the run up to the event and during the event, I saw it many times on television channels. Obviously, for the organizers of the event, the millions of eyeballs were the target and thus the millions of expected footfalls in the days to come.

I cannot say and I don’t know about the part of India Mr. Ravishankar has his ashram in, but we in Northern India, so far, had not seen the ‘Sri Sri’ products advertisements on the channels televised nationally, be it entertainment, be it news, be it infotainment or any other genre.

Till the World Culture Festival happened!

There was a coordinated and well-oiled effort to reach that elusive ‘effective frequency’ of advertisements to build the outreach.

But would it help take the brand ‘Sri Sri’ further?

Also, was the decision to hold a mega event in Delhi to take the ‘Art of Living Foundation’ and ‘Sri Sri’ brand name across the country influenced by the rapid strides made by products of another religious guru – Ramdev’s ‘Patanjali’ brand?

Obviously, Mr. Ravishankar denied so and Ramdev would not speak on it but these TV advertisements speak a lot.

But they certainly belie the tall claims of world peace, unity and humanitarianism.

Why these advertisements now only?

If the event was organized with such a noble intent like the world peace then there was no place for these advertisements!

At best, the event can be termed a breathtaking cultural extravaganza aimed at making Mr. Ravishankar a pan-India religious guru – to massify his brand appeal.

And the event would have been a brilliant marketing exercise in doing so but for the ‘Yamuna’ controversy.

When every concerned authority, from the Supreme Court to the NGT, was opposed to the event being organized at the Yamuna floodplains, Mr. Ravishankar made it prestige battle to have his say and got his way.

Combined with the fact that the political establishments (including the Delhi government) and the administration extended the olive branch and went out of the way to ensure smooth organization of a private event that caused endless traffic nightmares to millions in Delhi, the World Culture Festival sent negative feelers, that in fact, caused a dent into the ‘holy aura’ of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

It is not that ‘holy’ anymore!

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –