Swami Agnivesh does the honours for prohibition

The Economic Times, New Delhi October 20, 1996 - C.R. Rathee

Kurukshetra: To the activists of the Bharatiya Arya Pratinidhi Sabha (BAPS), particularly the trio of Yuva Sanyasis comprising Swami Indervesh, Swami Agnivesh and Swami Adityavesh, clamping of total prohibition in Haryana comes as the fulfillment of their three-decade old dream.

Today they have started the 12 day Vijay Yatra from here. Environmentalist Ms Medha Patkar flagged off the Yatra. After covering 150 villages and towns of Haryana, the Yatra will conclude at Rajghat in Delhi on November 1. Immediately thereafter, a memorandum would be submitted to the Prime Minister, urging him to compensate 50 per cent of the revenue loss tothe states which introduce prohibition.

A two-day All India Prohibition Convention will be held on November 2 and 3 on the lawns of the constitution Club of the Capital.The BAPS trio's efforts at removing prohibition go back to 1968 when they set out on a sharabbandi pad yatra from Kurukshetra to Delhi, Swami Agnivesh was then Prof Shyama Rao teaching Business Law in St. Xavier's College, Calcutta and Swami Adityavesh was Mr. Rama Nand, an employment officer in Madhya Pradesh.

The duo had, on their own come to Gurukul Jhajjar in Rohtak district of Haryana, to learn Sanskrit and more about the Vedas from Acharya Bhagwan Dev, now known as Swami Omanand Saraswati. Swami Indervesh was then Brahamchari Inderdev Medharvart. Inspired by Acharya Bhagwan Dev, both Prof Shyama Roa and Mr. Rama Nand made the gurukul their home. Having learnt the Vedas, they involved themselves in the social reform movement of the Arya Samaj and along with Inderdev undertook the first Sharab-bandi pad yatra in 1968. Since then there has been no looking back.

A few years after that, the trio took sanyas and parted company with the guru, Acharya Bhagwan Dev. They floated a regional political party, the Arya Sabha, with total prohibition as the main plank. The movement caught the fancy of the people of Haryana and adjoining parts of Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and western Utter Pradesh. Emboldened by the response the trio captured the cash-rich Punjab Arya Pratinidhi Sabha (PAPS) including hundreds of schools, colleges, gurukuls and the deemed university at Kangri (UP) in early 70's.

As Arya Sabha activists they opposed the Emergency and were jailed for responding to the call of the late Jay Prakash. During the Emergency in 1977, they merged their Arya Sabha into the erstwhile Janata Party and the swamis became MPs, MLAs and ministers. But even while being members of the ruling party and holding offices, they continued their battle against the bottle.

Swami Adityavesh staged hunger strikes outside the MLA's hotel in Chandigarh when his own party's chief minister, Mr. Devi Lal declined prohibition. The Swami later filed a public interest petition in the Supreme Court, invoking the constitution, which enshrines a clause expecting the country to banish liquor. He spent several months in jail also for crusading against liquor.