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The Baba Blend

At the core of the phenomenon that is Baba Ramdev is his yoga.

Written by Vandita Mishra |
June 5, 2011 2:39:52 am

The Baba dominates the screen as he demonstrates a series of yoga asanas and breathing techniques. He talks to his audience continuously. About curing afflictions of the body and body politic,of India’s present emasculation and past valour,for yog shakti becoming rashtra bhakti,against English and the MNC.

At the core is yoga,but the Ramdev Blend,served up every morning on your television set,is made up of assorted ingredients,including swadeshi,patriotism and ayurveda. Over the last year or so,however,it has been strongly flavoured by a muscular nationalism and the fantasy of a harder,more unforgiving state that hangs to death the criminal as well as the corrupt.

The daily television show,airing on Aastha channel since 2005,is the centrepiece of the Ramdev Empire that,by his own estimation,has a turnover of about Rs 1,100 crore. It all comes in through “voluntary donations”,claims Acharya Balkrishna,who laid the empire’s foundation along with Ramdev and functions as its administrative head.

The sprawling campus of the Patanjali Yogpeeth,off NH 58 on the Haridwar-Roorkee route,is the empire’s headquarters. Inaugurated in 2006,the complex of beige buildings includes an ayurveda college with a hostel,diagnostic labs,library,magazine division,OPD facilities,yoga research department,free yoga classes,food court and residential quarters for visiting patients.

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About 25 km from the Yogpeeth is the 100-acre Patanjali Food and Herbal Park. And across the road,construction has almost concluded on Phase 2 of the Yogpeeth. It houses a grand auditorium,a dharamshala and 320 furnished flats complete with LCDs,ACs,RO and power back-up systems,to be sold as retirement homes. Not everyone will make the cut,though. Resumes will be sought and a team led by the Acharya will conduct interviews. “We welcome retired engineers,doctors,scientists and vice-chancellors who will share their expertise to promote the goals of the Yogpeeth,” says the Acharya. He adds: “They (the candidates) must be educated,their background must be unblemished,and they should be in good health. After all,the very sick and the very old won’t be able to contribute.”

Over one lakh yoga classes are held daily by over 10 lakh trained teachers across the country,says the Acharya. Patanjali Yog Samitis that propagate yoga and Bharat Swabhiman Committees that serve as vehicles of the Ramdev Idea of India,have been established in district,tehsil and village,more in the northern states and less in the country’s south.

The empire spills over,into Little Cumbrae,an island in Scotland rechristened Shanti Dwipam and added to its list of acquisitions in 2009,and into other foreign settings. The Patanjali Trust has been extended to the UK,US,Canada,Mauritius,Nepal and Tanzania; it is in the process of spreading into Thailand and South Africa.

As the Baba’s international footprint grows,however,Ramdev-wallahs are keen to underline a distinction. Unlike other gurus,they say,Ramdev first strengthened his network in India—it was only in 2006 that he made his first trip abroad. Implicit in that assertion is the claim that Ramdev’s trajectory is more “swadeshi”. The unstated comparison is with his more urbane rival,Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

For sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan,however,the real distinction between Ramdev and Sri Sri is that between the proverbial “hedgehog and the fox”. Ramdev belongs to the first category,viewing the world through a single defining metaphor of health,he says. Sri Sri’s message,on the other hand,is not tied to an overriding theme or preoccupation. He is a “general practitioner of spirituality”,says Vishwanathan,“with a wider and diffused set of prescriptions articulated in a managerial idiom” .

***

It all began 22 years ago when two boys met in a gurukul in Haryana’s Mahendragarh district. “I was 15-16 years old,Swamiji was a little older,” recalls the Acharya. A strong friendship developed between young Balkrishna and Ramdev,and in 1995,they set up the Kripalu Bagh Ashram at Kankhal. It was here that they started making ayurvedic medicines and teaching yoga.

The leap into the big league had come with the daily show on Aastha channel in 2005,but the next chapter of the Ramdev phenomenon was to be opened with the launch of the Bharat Swabhiman Trust on January 5,2009.

The Trust was set up to address “problems afflicting the nation”,says chief coordinator Jaideep Arya. But in the past two and a half years,the Bharat Swabhiman Trust has also served as the carrier of Ramdev’s political ambitions.

Last year,when he announced his intent to set up a separate political party before the general elections in 2014,the most favoured image in the Ramdev camp featured King Chandragupta and his mentor Chanakya. “Swamiji will select the right people who will bring in value-based politics but he himself will be like Chanakya. We now need to find Chandragupta who is presently hiding in the womb of future,” Arya told The Indian Express a few days after Ramdev announced his plans for a political party in March 2010.

The ambition to rule the ruler remains intact,if the wish-list Ramdev presented to the UPA government in the run-up to his satyagraha is indication. But Ramdev no longer talks of a party of his own. The pre-political mobilisation worked up by the nine-month-long Bharat Swabhiman Yatra that ended in Ujjain on June 1 may not culminate in a formal political debut—for now.

***

So far,the national capital has held out against Ramdev’s spell—“Our network is not so strong in Delhi,” admits the Acharya—but Ramdev may have chosen his moment well.

Over the last few months in particular,a climate of distrust of,and impatience with,politics and the politician has been whipped up. The steady drip of corruption scandals in UPA 2 has served to legitimise the cynicism. The government of the day,elected politicians in general and institutions like the Parliament,are being lashed by popular disdain.

In such a moment,Anna Hazare stirred up things in the corridors of power with his satyagraha for a Lokpal at Jantar Mantar in April. It is also in that extended moment that Ramdev came to camp in the Ramlila grounds.

It is an unfair comparison,says author and sociologist Ashis Nandy. “Ramdev is so different from Anna,” he says. “Anna comes from the Gandhian tradition,he had already launched half-a-dozen movements in Maharashtra before he was discovered by the national media. Anna has worked the hard way,with austerity,while Ramdev flaunts his private jets.” Ramdev has not shown the key element of spiritual leadership,which is renunciation,says Nandy. At the end of the day,even in politics,renunciation has the edge,he insists.

Now that the Ramdev show has come to town,that is only one of the certainties that will be put to test.

Baba speak

On homosexuality: It’s a disease that is curable. It can be treated like any other congenital defect. Such tendencies can be treated by yoga. Homosexual relationships,if encouraged,would bring the population growth of a country to a halt.

On black money: Around Rs 400 lakh crore black money is stashed outside the country…When the black money is brought back,our economy will be so huge,our currency will be so strong that our one rupee will be equal to 50 dollars.

On Indo-US ties: US has been making a fool out of India. It is about time that we realise the real intentions of the US. The US is able to cow us down as it has money,which is the biggest power to influence any country.

HIS DEMANDS,AND WHY THEY WON’T WORK

Demand 1: Declare accounts of Indians in tax havens as national property,first through an Ordinance,and later an Act.

Every Indian citizen’s asset is anyway national asset and is accounted for in the national income or GDP. Tax havens are defined under international laws and can’t be infringed upon.

Demand 2: Declare stashing away black money in tax havens as a national crime. 883 people die every hour of malnutrition and hunger,whereas the corrupt carry out scams worth lakhs of crores.

Money,on which tax is not paid,is called black money. Not paying taxes is a crime and there are enough laws to take the person to task. What can prevent hunger and malnutrition are good policies and better targeting. Any amount of black money won’t help.

Demand 3: Remove high denomination currency notes to prevent formation of black money. Today,we have Rs 100 lakh crore of black money because Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes make it easier for corrupt people to transport,carry and store large sums of money. There is no use of these notes when over 80 crore people in our country live on a daily income of Rs 20.

In 1978,the RBI did demonetise notes of Rs 1,000,Rs 5,000 and

Rs 10,000 denominations to curb black money. It was demonetised earlier too,in 1946,for the same reasons,only to be reintroduced in 1954. The RBI action did not help the cause of honesty. There is no credible study on the quantum of black money in India,but Ramdev believes it is Rs 100 lakh crore. Even the figure of 80 crore people living on less than Rs 20 a day (the Arjun Sengupta report) has been disputed.

Demand 4: Ban the Land Acquisition Act that we use to loot poor farmers.

If you go back to an economy,which produces only agri-related products and forget services and manufacturing,we will end up creating millions of low-paying jobs in agriculture.

Demand 5: Enactment of a strong Public Service Delivery Guarantee Act so that if any citizen is denied service by a government official within a stipulated time,the official concerned will have to pay a penalty.

This is simply repackaging the UPA government’s idea. The government has spoken of enacting a model Public Services Law that commits government officials to delivering social services. President Pratibha Patil had stated this in her first speech to the joint session of 15th Lok Sabha.

— P Vaidyanathan Iyer

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