PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: A full-fledged war has broken out between “India’s future Nobel laureate“, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and underworld don-turned-journalist-turned-film maker, ‘Agni‘ Sridhar, with the godman’s Art of Living foundation threatening a preemptive Rs 50 crore defamation suit against the latter.
The suit just comes four days after AoL claimed it was receiving extortion calls from a telephone number belonging to Sridhar, the man behind the eponymous weekly Kannada tabloid, Agni, and is clearly aimed at stemming the flow of negative news that has bedevilled “Mr Shankar” in the last month.
Last Tuesday, June 29, Ravi Shankar’s AoL filed a complaint before Bangalore police saying they had been receiving SMSes and calls from the mobile phone belonging to the journalist demanding Rs 42 crore (one million dollars).
Agni Sridhar was not named in the complaint.
An AoL spokesman told reporters Agni Sridhar had visited the ashram to initiate “joint social development projects” with organisations associated with him, but when ashram representatives visited him, he changed tack. It is alleged he said he had some compact discs (CDs) to malign the ashram.
(Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has since claimed in an interview with the Bombay tabloid Mid-Day that “someone” was blackmailing him with a fabricated video.)
The following day, Agni Sridhar called a press conference to clear his name since his phone number had been mentioned, stating that he was only interceding on behalf of Paul Fernandez, a non-resident Indian whose 15-acre plot of land had been allegedly grabbed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ashram, a charge denied by the ashram.
Now, AoL has followed up its police complaint with a legal notice to Agni Sridhar, demanding an unconditional apology for all the defamatory articles published by the weekly over a seven-year period. That’s Kannada reports that Sridhar has confirmed receiving such a notice.
Curiously, the notice has been sent by advocate S. Dore Raju, a former state public prosecutor seen to be close to the ruling BJP government in Karnataka if not the sangh parivar itself.
The police complaint and the legal notice cap a month of negative publicity for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who earlier last month complained of being the target of an “assassination attempt” only to find Bangalore police assert that it was just a neighbour shooing off wild dogs.
The sudden spurt of incidents involving Sri Sri ravi Shankar also throws light on a possible war between godmen in Bangalore.
In a separate interview, Agni Sridhar had alleged that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was behind the Nithyananda video as he was wary of the latter’s growing popularity. Nithyananda who was caught on film with a Tamil film actress was released from custody recently.
Sridhar, a “reformed” underworld figure, has more recently branched out into making movies. He scripted the critically acclaimed Aa Dinagalu (Those were the days) on his stint in the margins, with the Jnanpith Award winning writer Girish Karnad. Two other films Slum Bala and Tamassu have since come from his stable.
Photographs: courtesy Enemiga Publica and Belli Tere
Also read: When a newspaper recites the Gita to a godman