Sri Sri Ravi Shankar miffed with the Pope

Says Vatican-backed Norway is sidetracking his effort at brokering seminal peace deal between Colombian government and FARC guerillas

New Delhi: India’s foreign office is keeping itself updated on an interesting, if trifle peculiar, slugfest that’s currently on between the Vatican and Indian spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

ANNOYED: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
ANNOYED: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

The Art of Living (AOL) Foundation founder is miffed at recent attempts by the Norwegian government to hijack his peace initiatives in strife-ridden Colombia. In a year-long effort, Sri Sri managed to broker a peace deal between the Colombian government and left guerrilla outfit FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), mediating on behalf of the latter during peace talks held this July in Cuba. In what was seen as the first breakthrough in three years, FARC commander Iván Márquez agreed to adopt the Gandhian principle of ahimsa while continuing to chase political goals in a new unilateral ceasefire. In June, Sri Sri had conducted a meeting in Bogotá with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.

Sources in Delhi say the guru’s annoyance with the Vatican has reached the top echelons of the government.
Pushed by the Vatican, Norway, which was also part of a four nation pack (including Cuba, Chile and Venezuela) acting as guarantors in the talks, released press notes that claim the peace talks came to fruition because of “painstaking efforts undertaken by a league of Western nations”. Last week, on a 10-day trip to US and Cuba, Pope Francis, the Argentine-born pontiff held a mass in Havana, saying in his address, “May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict … sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation.”

Commander of the FARC-EP leftist guerrillas, Ivan Marquez (left), reads a statement during peace talks with the Colombian government next to FARC commander Jesus Santrich in Havana on September 11. Pic/AFP
Commander of the FARC-EP leftist guerrillas, Ivan Marquez (left), reads a statement during peace talks with the Colombian government next to FARC commander Jesus Santrich in Havana on September 11. Pic/AFP

Sri Sri sees Oslo as deliberately sidetracking his efforts, his supporters tell the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We are monitoring the developments,” a ministry official said in a telephonic conversation, explaining that protocol doesn’t allow him to be quoted. The official clarified, however, that the Colombian government does not ascribe to the views of the four nations. “It [Colombian government] is fully versed with the situation and is highly appreciative of the efforts of the spiritual leader. Ivan Marquez held all his conversations with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and not with emissaries of the Western nations.”

But a recent joint statement released by the four nations requesting FARC not to escalate violence had no mention of the Bangalore-based guru, who was responsible for bringing Colombian government’s top negotiator to the table after he threatened to walk away from peace talks in Havana and rejected rebel calls for a bilateral ceasefire on the ground that the FARC had previously used truces to rearm and return to violence.

In recent times, FARC’s main target has been the country’s oil and electricity infrastructure, crippling life for thousands. The militant group has been active in the Colombian armed conflict since 1964, and deemed a terrorist organisation by the UN and America. Latin America’s longest war has killed 2,20,000 people and displaced as many as six million since 1964. The Havana talks are seen as bearing the best results toward conflict resolution.

Peace talks between the parties have been ongoing since 2012. A ceasefire was announced by both but lifted last May after which sporadic incidents of violence were reported.

In March 2015, Juan Manuel Santos agreed to halt aerial bombing in recognition of a unilateral ceasefire called by FARC on Christmas of 2014. The move by Sri Sri was called “Colombia’s biggest breakthrough” by the Spanish media.

“The Western nations were nowhere when members of Art of Living worked closely with the rebels, initiating them into daily peace talks and yoga,” said Gautam Vig, spokesperson for AOL.

According to the Colombia government, FARC had 16,000 fighters in 2001, but the number dropped to 8,000 due to desertions.

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