His views on religion are so unconventional that some even question his bona fides. One journalist in Goa asked him: Why do you wear the saffron robe at all? Who will do the religious work if swamis take to social action or political issues? ‘Agnivesh stresses his faith in spirituality, though he says this ought to be ‘social spirituality’. In other words, it ought not to be of an individualistic or escapist variety.

‘It (spirituality) should be made into a resource for social transformation. Obscurantist, ritual-ridden, superstition-mongering religion should be given a prompt burial,’ he insists. ‘The kind of education I had in the Arya Samaj persuaded me that the spiritual quest of an individual is inextricably linked with his social life. Like two sides of a coin, they complement each other. Religion should never degenerate into an exercise in escapism.’

‘Spiritual pursuit has for centuries remained individualistic. It now has to be made to address social needs,’ says Agnivesh. He is unsparing in his critique of the ‘bankruptcy of the political leadership’ of India. Issues taken up during the freedom movement, like pledges to stop the proliferation of liquor, have been fast forgotten. Communalism has raised its monstrous head.

According to Swamiji, ‘Our real issues are poverty and the glaring socio-economic inequality. These are the biggest issues, the biggest challenges.’ Swamiji's understanding of religiosity is in sharp contrast to that of the familiar custodians of religions who thrive by getting different communities to fight each other over communal issues. ‘Our spiritual bankruptcy has also shown,’ says he. Agnivesh points out that the values common to all religions have been neglected, while the vaccum has been filled by communal politics.

Child servitude is perpetuating itself, and the bonded labour situation is worsening in India notwithstanding official claims, says the articulate Swami. But should men of God actually enter the marketplace of politics? What about leaving this to Caesar who is supposed to handle this portfolio, in the customary division of labours?

‘I have never been able to compartmentalize religion, politics and social action,’ says Agnivesh. They all exist together in the web of social realities. Positive elements from all religions should be integrated into mainstream politics.

Further, he adds, the task of the spiritually enlightened is not to promote one particular religion; much less to pit one religion against another. He repeatedly calls for identifying the good and the common factors that exist within all religions. He dreams of a world where religions interact in an integrative model as against the present conflictual and competitive model.

‘Without a spiritually liberated vision of life and of the human predicament we cannot survive, much less progress. If we have to fight the cultural imperialism or MTV, we have to launch a movement based on such a spiritual vision of human dignity and destiny,’ says he.

‘Politics is meant for the people. It is meant to be a sacred vocation committed to maximizing the wellbeing of the people. No one who has spiritual concerns or a sense of fellow-humanity can remain indifferent to politics. Religious leaders are part of the society and the servants of the people. I would like men of religion to play a positive role in politics, and imbue in it the values that nourish public culture and the art of governance.’

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