Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was in Delhi on Wednesday en route to Germany and Israel. The spiritual and humanitarian leader, who with his Art of Living foundation has millions of followers the world over, is a keynote speaker at the second Israeli Presidential Conference, Facing Tomorrow, convened by Shimon Peres, the president of Israel.
He spoke to HT on a range of issues such as corruption, the plight of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, terrorism and how spirituality can help tackle these problems. Excerpts:
You speak your mind on various issues and participate in rallies against corruption and terrorism. As a spiritual leader, don’t you fear this might make you unpopular with a section of people?
No, I am not worried about my popularity. My only concern is to curb violence in society by promoting spirituality and human values.
What do you think is the root cause of Maoism and how can it be tackled?
Maoism is prevalent in areas where there is a lack of spirituality. There are very poor areas even in Tamil Nadu, but Maoism has not taken roots there. The answer to the problem lies in socio-economic empowerment of people in these areas and instilling a sense of spirituality in them. Recently, a former Maoist leader joined the democratic process after he met Art of Living instructors in jail. He has also floated a political party in Jharkhand which will contest the coming assembly elections.
Many Union ministers are talking about austerity and are travelling in economy class. How do you look upon this?
Our leaders should lead by example. You have the moral right to preach austerity only when you practice it yourself. So, it is good that our leaders are talking about austerity.
But don’t you think the ministers would do well to launch a campaign against corruption instead of resorting to symbolic gestures about austerity?
One of the reasons why corruption is rampant is the public apathy towards it. But yes, the political class and bureaucracy have to show more willpower to fight corruption.
Your Art of living courses are very popular with corporate houses. Recently, Union corporate affairs minister Salman Khurshid asked corporate houses to refrain from doling out ‘vulgar’ salaries to CEOs. What is your take?
I do not think it is practically possible to give equal salaries to everyone. But yes, there has to be lesser disparity in salaries at various levels. Besides, highly-paid people should share their wealth with the less-privileged. There is so much more they can do for the society.