ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Seva in the Neo-liberal Development Regime in India

Groundwater, Gurus, and Governmentality

Temples and religious organisations undertaking community projects and welfare work have been a part of the history of South Asia. However, in the neo-liberal era, international governmental platforms, international funding agencies, multinational corporations, central and state government bodies, and international Hindu religious organisations are coming together to effect large-scale developmental efforts. The nuances of this shift are traced by comparing the groundwater management and conservation projects undertaken by the Swadhyay Parivar in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat in the early 1990s, and Art of Living across the country in the last decade. While many would argue that non-governmental organisations and faith-based organisations have occupied the void created by a neo-liberal state disappearing from the public sector, this paper shows that the state–international bodies–MNC–religion complex has regimented a large population in an all-pervasive governmentality.

Among the controversies about spiritual gurus that have come into the public view, two revolved around rivers and riverbanks. The first was that the Art of Living (AOL), founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was fined by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for destroying the Yamuna floodplain—through heavy construction activities and dumping of solid waste—while organising the World Cultural Festival in April 2016. Ravi Shankar publicly retorted that it was the NGT and the environment ministry who had given permission to use the venue. He recounted the cleaning campaigns he had undertaken in the parts of Yamuna river that flow through Delhi and other river rejuvenation projects he had organised across the country, while his lawyers tried to bring down the amount of the fine, claiming that the Yamuna riverbank had not been notified as wetland in any hitherto government report or recommendation (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar 2016).

The second controversy was regarding Jaggi Vasudev’s (also known as Sadhguru) bonhomie with Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, in September 2017 when the former was announcing the Rally for Rivers campaign and the latter was finalising the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project. In his speeches during rallies across the country, Sadhguru waxed eloquent about the benefits of creating a 1 kilometre (km) forest cover along all riverbanks. However, the formal 760-page report released by his organisation, the Isha Foundation (2017: 96–103), had a section dedicated to discussing the importance of the government’s ongoing efforts to interlink rivers. Several Indian water management experts have voiced serious reservations about such large-scale projects since they submerge huge tracts of cultivable and forest land, destroy livelihoods of people, and multiply migration to cities. Besides aggravating water conflicts between states, changing the course of rivers also invites floods, droughts, and uncertainty for upstream farmers.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Updated On : 17th May, 2021
Back to Top