Swami Agnivesh, a controversial political figure is saffron garb, passed away on Friday after prolonged illness due to liver cirrhosis. Agnivesh was unique in that even though he donned the saffron garb, he received passionate condolences from only the liberal end of the political spectrum while others preferred to ignore his passing entirely.
Social media was overflowing with condolences when news of his death broke out. Weirdly, however, all the messages came from only one end of the political spectrum. Controversial actress Swara Bhasker deemed Swami Agnivesh to be the true embodiment of ‘Hindu Dharm’.
A gem of a person.. a true embodiment of #Hindu Dharm.. a man who represented the true meaning of the colour saffron. #SwamiAgnivesh ji— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) September 11, 2020
India has lost a special son. 😞😞😞🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 #OmShanti #RIP pic.twitter.com/BhTPz6UfjN
Umar Khalid, the JNU scholar who is under the scanner for his alleged role in the Delhi Riots in February, mourned his loss and claimed that “The people’s movements have lost a dear friend.”
It was an honour having known you, Swami Agnivesh ji. The people’s movements have lost a dear friend. But we will take forward your fight against inequality, bigotry, superstition and ignorace. That will be the real tribute to you! pic.twitter.com/vkHpQhEh4p— Umar Khalid (@UmarKhalidJNU) September 11, 2020
Javed Akhtar took the opportunity to bid a final farewell to the controversial activist.
This world has lost one more noble human being Swami Agnivesh . His resilience against the bonded labour had given a new life to lakhs of men women and children . Good bye Swami ji .— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) September 12, 2020
Communists paid tributes to him as well. “A lifelong crusader against social slavery and bigotry,” they called him.
Swami Agnivesh is no more. A lifelong crusader against social slavery and bigotry, Agnivesh continued to fight against hate crimes till his last breath. His courage, tenacity and fighting spirit will continue to inspire India’s battle against communal fascism. Salute Swamiji! pic.twitter.com/moaX8NUblZ— Dipankar (@Dipankar_cpiml) September 11, 2020
On the other side of the spectrum, there was either sheer indifference or an expression of joy or relief. “Good riddance” is how certain people described the passing away of Swami Agnivesh. Thus, quite clearly, the man in saffron evoked sharply contrasting sentiments among people of diverse political factions.
The reason for that can perhaps be found in the manner Swami Agnivesh has conducted himself over the years. He might have worn saffron robes, but his politics was anything but. On every matter under the Sun, he invariably ended up taking a stance that ran contrary to the kind of politics usually practised by men in saffron robes.
His history of raking up controversies goes far back. In 2007, Swami Agnivesh had managed to anger Hindus when he suggested that non-Hindus should be permitted entry into the Puri Jagannath Temple. “We will warn Agnivesh not to make any inflammatory remarks that will hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. His remarks have created resentment among priests. We will send him a letter of warning,” then Puri collector and the deputy chief administrator of the Temple, Rashmi Ranjan Pattnaik, had said.
Four years later. Swami Agnivesh called the Amarnath Yatra a ‘religious deception’. Consequently, there were widespread protests against him. “Swami Agnivesh has passed derogatory remarks about the Amarnath shrine. He called the sacred ice stalagmite, representing Lord Shiva as just another block of ice. We consider this as an insult of our lord. Hence, we are carrying out this demonstration demanding strict action to be taken against him,” Swami Narayandass Puri, head priest of Sangla Shivala Mandir, had stated on the matter.
The matter had subsequently reached the Courts and the Supreme Court had slammed the controversial activist for the remarks that he had made. He was advised to think through his words “many a time before uttering them lest it hurts the sentiments of the people”. In 2015, again, Swami Agnivesh claimed that the Amarnath Yatra was responsible for floods in Kashmir.
“Nobody will dare to tell you this, but I am telling you and you must admit this fact that the Amarnath Yatra whose duration was stretched in a planned way is the source of catastrophe for the people of Kashmir,” he stated. He proceeded to add, “Amarnath yatra is a cocktail. It is the combination of religion and tourism and both the Hindu zealot groups and tourism department want to reap maximum benefits out of it.” He went on to claim, “The increased human traffic is threatening the environment in this fragile ecosystem, a major source of water for the Indus River. Scientists are now grappling with how to protect the headwaters of Kashmir Valley.”
Apart from such antics, he has demanded “peace talks” as the path forward to resolve Maoist terrorist while addressing former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He has also been spotted leading a protest march in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir with terrorist Yasin Malik. At the same time, he has also supported a 30-hour hunger strike against the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley, who were forced out of their homes by Jihadists.
Swami Agnivesh was also seen in a video calling for a disruption of Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption where he was discussing a plan to end the movement with then UPA Minister Kapil Sibal. Under such circumstances, it is no surprise that he is being hailed by liberals on social media. Using saffron robes as a ruse, he sought to further every radical liberal agenda, albeit unsuccessfully. He helped liberals pretend that they are not ‘anti-Hindu’.
In 2018, he was assaulted by people during his visit to Pakur, Jharkhand. As soon as he came out of the hotel, he was kicked and punched and black flags and slogans were raised against him. Even though he was expelled from the Arya Samaj, people continued to associate Swami Agnivesh with the organisation.