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Is Baba Ramdev now fair game?

The curious case of Baba Ramdev says as much about the nature of television in India as it does about his abilities as a yoga guru and televangelist.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | New Delhi |
March 9, 2011 3:02:43 pm

The curious case of Baba Ramdev says as much about the nature of television in India as it does about his abilities as a yoga guru and televangelist. Last week,you would have found him on the mat – where else – striking poses he’s unaccustomed to,and letting off steam rather than breathing in and out ‘om vilom’ style. He was Breaking News on many news channels,especially the Hindi news channels,after Congress’ Digvijay Singh asked him to reveal the sources of his money and donations. This follows Baba Ramdev’s campaign against black money which he often launches into between ‘kapalbhati’ lessons and his recent confrontation with Arunachal Pradesh Congress MP Ninong Ering who allegedly abused him during a yoga session for attacking the Congress Party on the issue of black money.

Baba Ramdev has made no secret of his political ambitions in the last one year. For those of us who have been watching his progress on the tube (not youtube but the television tube),this is no surprise. His drive to cleanse politics and the country of corruption,are integral to his discourses on healthy living now. Having spent years administering to our bodies and souls,he’s turned his attention to the ills in the body politic. This is a logical progression; if watch him conduct one of his innumerable TV sessions,you’ll soon discover that he has been repeating himself and now that millions of Indians seem ready to contort themselves into his shapes and sizes,it’s time for him to move on. Where else will he go but politics,given the kind of countrywide popularity he enjoys?

If there is one person who has grown along with with the phenomenal spread of television throughout the country,it is Baba Ramdev. He is a creature of TV,if not its creation. I have been told stories of viewers who have forsaken the comfort of their sofas watching saas-bahu serials,to genuflect before him on TV. It’s been an incredible success story and nobody should doubt the standing he enjoys with his yoga followers. Television has done everything it possibly could to increase their tribe. Baba Ramdev holds yoga classes on Doordarshan,most news channels,on Astha and then on Sanskar spiritual channels; regional language channels tune into these sessions too and there are live broadcasts of his trips across the country,and abroad. Nobody else in any field comes even close to him terms of television exposure.

Increasingly,Baba Ramdev talks about issues far below the high-minded discourses that elevated him to a guru. (Coca Cola,for instance,which he once described as worse than a toilet cleaner). And that’s the rub: if he finds himself attacked by politicians today,it is because he’s descended to their level. He’s using the platform he ascended with the power of yoga to propagate his views on policies,on governance; he’s advocating the death penalty for corruption and pointing fingers at political parties and their leaders. He’s playing politics,not the first guru to do so. Remember the power Dhirender Brahmachari exercised during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s prime-ministership?

However,once he’s into politics,it becomes dirty,as he has now discovered. And he’s being forced to appear on TV,not as a spiritual guide,but as one more person who must defend and/or explain himself. This could dim the TV-Teflon-coated protective sheen he has acquired from his televangelism. As everyone has found out,even a TV personality like Barkha Dutt after the Radiia tapes,breaking news,news channels do not discriminate on the basis of anything,not even the spiritual; anyone and everyone is fair game in their insatiable hunger for news and confrontations.

As he becomes more and political in his discourses leading up to the general elections of 2014,Baba Ramdev may find it difficult to maintain the lofty heights he’s accustomed to,and the television that has helped make him who he is,could also break him.

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