The Telugu World column# 7
Last week I wrote of Telugu people who migrated to other states to achieve greatness in many fields. I will continue about more such people who earned a name for themselves in other states and abroad as many readers may not know about them.
Swami Agnivesh, the Arya Samaj leader and crusader against bonded labour and gender inequality, was famous once. After a press conference, I learnt he was from the district in Andhra I (or rather, my parents) hailed from – Srikakulam and was born in the same year, same month. He ran away from home when still a boy settled in Haryana and became a swami of Arya Samaj. For years (perhaps not now) he remembered me by name and face whenever he came to my city; I have been out of it for two decades.
Wikipedia says he was born Vepa Shyam Rao, born on September 21, 1939 in an orthodox Brahmin family at Srikakulam. Losing his father at the age of four, he was brought up by his maternal grandfather then the Diwan of Sakti in Chhattisgarh. He got degrees in Law and Commerce, became a lecturer in management at St Xavier’s College in Kolkata and practiced law as a junior to Sabyasachi Mukherji, later Chief Justice of India.
In 1970, Agnivesh founded Arya Sabha, a political party based on Arya Samaj principles formulated in his book, Vaidik Samajvad. He became an MLA of Haryana in 1977, and Minister for Education in 1979 in the state’s first non-Congress government. Thus a Telugu man became a minister in distant Haryana. Swami Agnivesh In 1981, while still a minister, he founded the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which raises issues of bondage, especially in the quarries in and around Delhi. He remains the chairperson of the organization. After stepping down as Minister, he was arrested twice and spent 14 months in jail on charges of subversion and murder. He was later acquitted.
In February 2011, Agnivesh with Kavita Srivastava, Rajinder Sachar (journalist Kuldeep Nayar’s brother-in-law) and three others negotiated with Maoists to free five policemen they abducted in January..
In March 2011, Maoist forces killed three members of the Chhattisgarh security and police forces who allegedly retaliated by burning a Maoist village. When Agnivesh and his organization tried to take relief aid to the affected families, demonstrators attacked their cars, saying the Maoists killed many security force personnel.
Swami Agnivesh took part in Anna Hazare’s campaign in 2011 but broke away from this group, saying he was humiliated and conspired against for political reasons. A video of Agnivesh speaking to one Kapil (ostensibly Kapil Sibal, then a Union minister), went viral, suggesting that the government should deal more firmly with ‘adamant’ protesters,. Agnivesh first denied it was Sibal, but later asserted that the video was doctored. In 2013 he urged Manmohan Singh to hold talks with the Naxalites. He was expelled from Arya Samaj in August 2008, as 17 of its 19 units in India opposed him. The Kashmir Observer said a Hindu party offered a bounty of Rs.2 million for killing him.
His quitting the movement against corruption, addressing the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind to dissociate terrorists from Islam and brand Hindutva as fascist, besides his pro-Maoist stand (he headed the India-China Friendship Association then), drove him into oblivion.
In the 1980s I attended an exhibition of wall-size photographs of the Himalayas. They were so beautiful that anyone who saw them would want to quit his/her job and go to the Himalayas immediately. What was equally amazing was that they were taken by a swami who lived in a cave in the Himalayas who renounced all worldly possessions – except very costly cameras.
He was Swami Sundarananda. Having been the first journalist in Central India to have done his own photography earlier, I met him. During a long chat he said he too was from Andhra Pradesh. Sundarananda (born in April 1926 near Nellore in Andhra Pradesh) is a yogi, author, photographer and mountaineer. He lectures widely on pollution threats to river Ganga and loss of glaciers in Himalayas due to global warming. He left home in childhood, became a monk, and spends all he earns from selling photos on cameras and photographic material. The Hazalblad camera he had was worth more than my annual salary. All regular Himalaya visitors know about him.
(Neither I nor this website believe in caste; it was sometimes mentioned just for context0
There are more Telugu ‘transplants’ who thrived abroad. I know only a few. Feedback from readers is welcome .