Swami Agnivesh turns to Bigg Boss in publicity quest

By Reuters Staff
November 8, 2011

By Annie Banerji

India, touted as a land of mysticism and spirituality, boasts a large number of TV channels devoted to religion and faith. But for self-avowed Hindu reformist Swami Agnivesh, a former member of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare’s core team, the limelight of primetime reality TV was just too tempting.

Agnivesh sees it as an important medium to fight against exploitation, violence against women and the killing of unborn baby girls. But some have scorned a perceived publicity stunt gone too far.

Agnivesh, who controversially split from Hazare’s cadre of anti-graft warriors that mobilised millions against India’s corruption-smeared government, will on Tuesday appear on reality show Bigg Boss, India’s version of primetime hit Big Brother, in which contestants are under house arrest for three months with round-the-clock camera surveillance.

“People fight on the show but no worse than how MPs sometimes behave. It’s possible to bring about change with Bigg Boss. I’ve fought for forty-five years against exploitation in society, dowry, bride-burning, casteism, female foeticide,” the saffron-clad social activist said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“It’s been a mission of my life to strive for gender equality, I think I can teach these youngsters a thing or two,” the 72-year-old said, also denying that his participation in the show, which has a reputation of being crass and voyeuristic, will mar his virtuous image.

The social worker’s exposure on a TV show that has previously featured former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and disgraced former Bollywood actor Shakti Kapoor, may see him give India’s most famous yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who turned live yoga telecasts into a $40 million-a-year global yoga and health empire, a run for his money as a household name.

Soon after Anna Hazare’s nearly two-week hunger strike against corruption in August, a video surfaced allegedly showing Agnivesh speaking to an unidentified person, whom his former colleagues said was a minister from the Congress-led national government.

Agnivesh was labelled a broker for the Congress party, and was forced to withdraw from the nationwide movement.

Since he announced his participation in the TV show, conspiracy theories surrounding a possible government plot to undermine Hazare’s continued campaign by giving his tainted former colleague maximum exposure have begun to circulate.

“Could there be a Congress hand in placing of Swami Agnivesh in Bigg Boss to counter Team Anna? Strategic move in utter desperation?” tweeted activist-turned-journalist Aditya Raj Kaul, as “Swami Agnivesh” trended as one of the most talked about people on Tuesday.

Analysts believe Swami Agnivesh’s decision to sign up for the reality show could soon see his revered personality reduced to a mere caricature of his former self.

Might a reality TV show better known for C-list actors and former glamour models provide the next twist in the story of Hazare, his team, and their long-running anti-corruption drive?

(Interact with Annie on twitter at @anniebanerji)

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