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Keep calm and meditate: On Vipassana, all parties of one mind

Rahul Gandhi is a self-avowed believer in Vipassana, a meditation technique that is learnt through training sessions and focuses on “insight” – leaving him open to ridicule by opponents.

Written by Vidhatri Rao | New Delhi |
Updated: June 24, 2022 10:50:53 am
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a 'Satyagrah' against the Agnipath scheme, in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)

In his first address to the Congress after five days and 50 hours of questioning by the Enforcement Directorate, Rahul Gandhi suggested that officials couldn’t tire him out.

“Officials would come and go; perhaps they needed to take instructions from seniors. But I didn’t move even after 11 hours of questioning. Then they told me they were tired and asked what was the secret. I thought I would not tell them the real reason (suggesting he drew energy from the support of Congress workers). I told them that I practise Vipassana and, while doing it, one has to sit for 6-8 hours, hence I am used to it,” the senior Congress leader and MP said Wednesday.

Rahul Gandhi is a self-avowed believer in Vipassana, a meditation technique that is learnt through training sessions and focuses on “insight” – leaving him open to ridicule by opponents. Apart from Rahul, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is known to take breaks for Vipassana sessions, while other party leaders have also talked about its benefits.

In 2015, in the wake of the Congress’s humiliating Lok Sabha defeat under him, Rahul had taken a 57-day sabbatical shrouded in secrecy except the fact that a Vipassana centre was involved.

Earlier, in April 2013, Rahul held a three-day Youth Congress session at a Vipassana ashram in Mohankheda, as well as a meeting later that year in Pune.

In 2017, BJP MP Poonam Mahajan said at a conference organised by the India Today group that those doing Vipassana are “messed up in mind”. Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, who was at the same venue, replied: “Anyone who is spiritual is not messed up, instead anyone who calls him so is messed up.”

Contrary to Mahajan’s statement, in 2018, it was President Ram Nath Kovind who lauded the benefits of the meditation technique on a visit to the Global Vipassana Pagoda in Mumbai. Speaking of its role in what he called “the larger good of the individual and society”, he added: “Vipassana is a meditation technique which was taught by Lord Buddha. It includes three simple precepts — morality, self-realisation and concentration of mind. It is a non-sectarian meditation technique that applies equally to all human beings irrespective of caste, religion, language and gender.”

In October 2021, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar announced a 15-day leave for state government officials and employees if they wished to attend a Vipassana retreat at the Buddha Smriti Park in Patna.

In May 2022, Nitish himself visited a Vipassana centre and did meditation, while urging tourists to visit Vaishali, a Buddhist pilgrimage site in Patna.

Kejriwal, a frequent Vipassana practitioner, attended a training session in Jaipur in September 2021, and later said he felt “rejuvenated”. He has also made visits to centres in Dharamkot, Nagpur and Bengaluru in the past.

In 2015, the BJP and AAP had locked horns over the issue, when Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay slammed Deputy CM Manish Sisodia for his suggestion that Delhi government teachers undertake the meditation course. Upadhyay called it “a dirty joke”, and suggested the AAP government take the course instead to “curb their arrogance”.

IPS officer and politician Kiran Bedi has also been a proponent of the practice. During her time as head of Tihar Jail, Bedi invited teachers from a mediation centre of S N Goenka – who is believed to have popularised the trend in India – to conduct a 10-day Vipassana course inside the prison, a programme that continues till day.

In 2013, in fact, when Goenka passed away, those in attendance at his funeral included Narendra Modi, who was at the time the Chief Minister of Gujarat, along with former Union minister Suresh Prabhu, and other high-ranking officials.

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In a book titled The Modi Effect: Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign to Transform India by author and former BBC correspondent Lance Price, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying: “In the morning when the counting (for the 2014 election) was going on, I was totally alone and had no TV on. I was finishing off my own spiritual activities and enjoying my meditation time after the gruelling elections.”

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