'Why did they not raise their voice against the pollution in the Yamuna earlier? Why were they quiet for so long against construction and encroachment on the flood plains?'
Mahesh Girri was a close aide of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar before he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The BJP, it was said, gave Girri, below, left, a Lok Sabha ticket from the East Delhi consistuency at the Art Of Living founder's behest. Girri won the seat in the 2014 election.
Girri -- who worked on an Art Of Living project, Meri Dilli Meri Yamuna to cleanse the Yamuna river in 2010 -- spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com about why the World Cultural Festival 2016 must be held on the banks of the Yamuna and why the event is important to India.
What will India achieve by the World Cultural Festival 2016?
This is to showcase our cultural heritage like yoga, dance and music. This is our cultural legacy. It has a standing across the world.
Unique concepts of unity in diversity, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The World is One Family), come from our ancient texts.
We want to represent to the whole world how rich Indian culture is. Hence, we are holding this programme in which 155 countries are going to participate. There will be representatives of other cultures too from other parts of the world.
All of us will send the message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Why did you select the Yamuna?
Sanskriti (culture) and rivers are closely interlinked. They have deep inter-personal relations.
If you see the Kumbh Mela, it is held near a river. Any religious function is held near a river, therefore this is happening at the Yamuna.
In 2010 we (Art Of Living) started a movement, Meri Dilli, Meri Yamuna. After that movement there was a sensitivity attached that we need to reform the river.
We reformed 11, 12 rivers in Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra. We had created awareness for the Yamuna and therefore we are holding this event on the Yamuna.
While working on Meri Dilli Meri Yamuna, you must have become aware of the issues. What problems does the Yamuna face? And how will this programme benefit the river?
Firstly, the Supreme Court has said the Yamuna is no longer a river, it has become a dirty drain. There is zero per cent oxygen in the river. There are 1,587 nullahs emptying into the Yamuna and it no longer remains a river.
To regain the Yamuna (to its origins) we want to create social awareness, hence this programme.
What do you want to say to those who say this event will be an environmental disaster?
Why did they not raise their voice against the pollution in the Yamuna earlier? Why were they quiet for so long against construction and encroachment on the flood plains, which destroyed them?
There are small time activists raising their voice against the event, but their allegations are baseless.
You can see the before and after scene of which we have a video. You can check out what was the situation before the (construction) began, what the situation is now, and what the situation will be later.
The activists say the government bent rules for this event.
These are just allegations. We have taken permission for all work that were are doing.
It is said the government did not give permission at first, then the Art Of Living reapplied and the rules were bent.
The first time they applied, it was rejected. Then they re-applied as per rules and regulations. Therefore, they got the permission.
Why was it essential to involve the Indian Army?
The pontoon bridge that has been built by the army is because the people attending the event are citizens of India.
The expertise that is needed to build the bridge is not with any organisation, but with the army.
The army was involved to ensure there is no stampede at the event.
Critics allege that the Art Of Living has become the art of partying.
From day one, the Art Of Living has been saying life must be celebrated. We must have no doubts in life and must be of full confidence.
Celebrate your life with joy, peace and enthusiasm.
Our Vedas too say this and that is what Art Of Living is saying.
Those who talk of partying wear vulgarity spectacles and therefore they see this angle only.
Art Of Living is doing good work and therefore it has spread across 155 countries.
It is alleged that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is eyeing the Nobel Peace Prize, which is why he is organising this event.
His work does not need awards and certificates. The last time he got the Padma Vibhushan, he rejected it.
This time he was given the Padma Vibhushan again, at a time when the 'award wapsi' protests were going on across the country. Therefore, he said if he did not accept the award, it will send a wrong message.
He accepted the award out of respect for the country. If he needed an award, why would he have rejected the award the first time?
But I am talking of the Nobel Prize.
The country's honour is bigger than the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel toh dur ki baat hai (The Nobel is a distant matter). First he has to be given samman at home.
He has said he will go to jail, but will not pay the Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million) fine levied by the National Green Tribunal.
He tweeted that, but now he has clarified that he will listen to the court.
You check (the facts) again. (Note: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's last tweet was that he was unhappy with the NGT verdict and will appeal against it).