16 Jun “Guru”fication of a protest
In the last few months, we have seen a spate of anti-corruption protests across India. Without doubt, the citizens of the country are quite frustrated with the ever increasing number of scams that come to light every few days and even more so with the perceived lack of corrective action on the part of the Government. After a really long time, I saw large sections of society speak out against corruption, an issue which continues to hurt the progress of our nation to such an extent that it can no longer be ignored. I am not yet sure how much anyone is doing to fight or prevent it other than just talk, but at least the subject of corruption and the dire need to address it has made it to headline news relentlessly, which I think is a good sign. I have, like most people of India, have had to encounter corruption in some form or the other… policemen and Government officials have probably been on the top of the list as far as this is concerned. So it felt good when I heard the voices speaking out against corruption getting louder and stronger. But that was until a few days ago, when a Yoga guru suddenly decided to jump onto the Sattyagraha bandwagon and stake his claim to being the leader of the fight against corruption. Baba Ramdev. He is a “Hindu Yogi” who teaches Yoga. He started off under the influence of Achary Pradumn and renounced worldly life to take up “Sanyas”. Since then, with millions of followers, Baba Ramdev has gone about propagating Yoga along with his views on life, society, politics, science, education, medicine and everything else he believes he knows more about than any other person in the universe. He has been known to have very strong views about being a “nationalist” and speaks about boycotting everything that has foreign origins. He wants India to become a 100% yoga-oriented nation. He claims to have cures for cancer and AIDS (but has not been able to prove it as yet). And he wants to get rid of sex education in schools and replace it with Yoga education. It is his belief that homosexuality is a disease and such people are sick and should be sent to hospitals for treatment. Baba Ramdev is a millionaire. He is now taking Yoga global by purchasing an island in Scotland where he plans to set up a center that will help rich westerners find their way back to the “right path”. And yes, according to reports, he plans to spend more and more time in Scotland! Amongst the right things which he has said or done include a call for a more unified India, an appeal to root out corruption from the country and deal with the black money issue. And yes, his teachings of Yoga do appear to help a lot of people.
So that’s Baba Ramdev for you in a nutshell. Now let’s get back to what this article is all about.
History has shown us numerous times that any movement which did not have strong positive leadership, has fizzled out after some time. On the other hand, when strong leaders have come forward to unify the people to fight for what’s right and good for person and country, transformational change has been brought about. In India, right from the time of our struggle for freedom, true leaders, who were fearless and unwilling to settle for a compromise either got sidelined by politically motivated power mongers or unfortunately did not live long enough to carry their battles forward. Unparalleled leaders like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar and many more such heroes had set the benchmark of leadership so high that few could match them. But with time, not only has the world seen fewer and fewer leaders who have genuine intent to change society for the better, more and more people have emerged who misuse their popularity or people-connect to further their own vested interests. Baba Ramdev is one such person. The Yoga guru with political aspirations put up a show for the media by going on a fast to fight against corruption. Not only were his actions politically motivated, they ended up distracting the attention of people from the core issue. It became more of a soap opera made for national television rather than a civil movement for a real cause. Interestingly, when I put up a message on Facebook expressing my displeasure with Baba Ramdev, a friend commented that we have “an allergy against anyone wearing saffron”! To be very honest, I found the comment quite immature because for me, India means a whole lot more than the colour we wear, the language we speak, the food we eat, the religion we follow or our socio-economic and geographic profile. For me, India is a colourful potpourri of elements that cannot be defined in one single definition or identity. So my unwillingness to support the likes of Baba Ramdev stem from the belief that such people do not serve in the best interests of the country. They are publicity-hungry diversions that India could do without in times of positive change. When a country wakes up to the need to fight against anything that threatens its future, what it needs is unity and true leaders with unquestionable credibility and genuineness of intent.
Another reaction to my Facebook message was that Indians tend to look for or create symbols for everything. While I agree with this comment to a certain degree, I must also say that symbols are extremely important in any journey towards change. Names like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, The Dalai Lama are symbols of transformation, symbols of selfless commitment to the society, symbols of courage, symbols of true intent. Symbols are a necessity of human society. Strong leaders become symbols of what we aspire to be. They become symbols of hope and confidence that yes, a brighter tomorrow is within our reach. When someone comes to the forefront of any movement, he or she automatically becomes a symbol of what that movement stands for. I hate and oppose corruption like every other responsible citizen but I refuse to allow conniving schemers to hijack the process and render it ineffective. Baba Ramdev was a terrible advertisement for the anti-corruption movement and I pray that he and others like him stay as far away from this movement as possible.
I am well aware of Baba Ramdev’s popularity in many circles and I am also sure that the views I have expressed about him in this article may not go down well with a lot of you. At the same time, I hope that you will understand the premise of my opposition towards him. As long as he was occupied with yoga and meditation, I had no problems with him. But when he went on a farcical overdrive in the name of fighting for the people against all evil, I could no longer stay quiet. Simply because I don’t believe in him and his brand of change.