Swami Agnivesh retrieved the sanctity of the ochre/saffron robes from hijackers posing as nationalists, challenged them on their turf, and defeated them more often than not. I’ve known him four decades, perhaps, as a political activist, a minister in Haryana, the campaigner against bonded labour and child rights, as a fighter against the Sangh Parivar. We were together on hundreds of common platforms in India and the world.
We differed too. The man from Srikakulam, now in Andhra, who was also a man from Orissa, taught at a Jesuit institutions in Kolkata, vigorously opposed evangelisation. He was against conversions, even when challenged and asked if he also opposed freedom of faith of the dispossessed and the so called outcastes. I have a bitter personal experience with him in Gujarat 2002, too.
But who else, clad in the dress once worn by Swami Vivekanand, could argue and answer back everyone from a Shankaracharya down to the knife bearing thug who said he was protecting India?
Of course they attacked him, more than once, grievously injuring him sometimes. This photograph from my archives is when he was recovering from the last vicious attack on him in Jharkhand. Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, Fr Felix of the Catholic archdiocese. Commission for Interfaith Dialogue, and I had called on the Swami in his Delhi home.
Saluts Swami Agnivesh.