Art of Living head Ravi Shankar, often known as 'Sri Sri', isn't known for being particularly right wing when it comes to geopolitics. Shankar has visited a number of Arab countries and even made his way over to Pakistan, where he spoke of peace. So it was not all that surprising when, having invited Pakistani religious leader Mufti Maulana Muhammad Saeed Khan to his massive cultural confab, Shankar also spoke up about being able to say that both countries should progress.
"Pakistan and India and all countries, we should all remember that we are all human, we are all a part of this planet, we are sons of Ishwar, and we should come together with love... Pakistan, Hindustan should move forward with friendship. Jai Hind aur Pakistan Zindabad saath saath chalein (Long live India and long live Pakistan should go hand in hand)," said on the second day of the World Cultural Festival in Delhi, toward the end of the clip above.
Following this, Shankar prompted Khan to say 'Pakistan Zindabad' to which he replied, 'Jai Hind.' This may not be all that new from Shankar or the Art of Living, which has built an image of pushing spirituality all over the world, but it was unsettling for his more right-wing supporters, especially those close to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
They have spent the last few weeks demonising a few students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University for raising allegedly seditious slogans, a campaign that included TV channels doctoring protest videos and inserting the words "Pakistan Zindabad" into clips. The BJP has frequently demonstrated against those who would dare say such a thing, which made Shankar's words somewhat unusual, especially on a day that Home Minister Rajnath Singh was at the festival.
Singh is the same minister who said he would not tolerate the words Pakistan Zindabad on Indian soil. Nevertheless, instead of considering Shankar's comments an offense, his move was somewhat lauded. At the same time, #SendSriSriToPakistan trended on Twitter, with people pointing out the hypocrisy of the BJP supporting such a statement.
The next day, after the news had been reported however, Shankar backtracked and insisted that he had never said Pakistan Zindabad.
“The Imam said he would say Pakistan Zindabad to which I said Jai Hind. I did not say Pakistan Zindabad," Shankar told the Indian Express. This is not technically true – Shankar did say the words Pakistan Zindabad, insisting it should go hand in hand with Jai Hind. And he was evidently calling for peace between the countries. But he also didn't "raise slogans' of Pakistan Zindabad either.
The BJP and its various associated outfits and trolls, decided to take on those who had pushed the story, arguing instead that Shankar and Khan had only said Jai Hind and Pakistan Zindabad separately.
Amid all this backtracking and the technical denials from his supporters, Shankar's entire point in even talking about Pakistan was missed. The fact that Shankar felt the need to deny claims he had said Pakistan Zindabad also underscored the impression that his words – that the rest of the world should stand with Pakistan in its fight against terror and for peace – had gone entirely unheeded.