Baba Ramdev has Congress a lot to thank for. From being lost as a whimper amidst the uproar on corruption caused by media due to the virtual Pandora Box of cases exposing government’s venality and fever pitch campaigns run by Anna Hazare, the Ramlila ground fiasco suddenly resurrected him as a messiah willing to sacrifice himself to save the nation.
That his fast had an oxymoronic end is a different matter. His transformation as a Baba who teaches yoga ‘asanas’ to a ‘Crusader against Corruption’ to a ‘Damp Squib’ desperate for a sip of water – all within a span of a fortnight should hold lessons for Ramdev.
First and foremost, the business of yoga and politics are two very different ball-games. Undoubtedly, Ramdev has an astute business cerebrum. It is not easy for a penniless pauper to own multi-crore assets in a matter of a decade. But acumen to convert opportunity and talent into money does not give you the shrewdness needed to negotiate political curvatures.
The pervasive lack of trust in politicians has made people like Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev overnight heroes. The rise of the civil society is welcome. But their representatives must have the maturity to deal with seasoned politicians as well as credibility to hold ground against those who will look for the first opportunity to pull the rug.
This is where Baba Ramdev has blundered.
By first giving a written assurance to the government about abandoning his campaign plans and then pretending to be taking on the Centre, Baba Ramdev lost trust. And the opportunity to genuinely engage in a dialogue with the government on issues which he claims to feel strongly about. In the din raised by the debacle, the focus moved away from real issues like black money or encouraging higher and technical education in Hindi and other vernacular languages to give students from rural areas better opportunities.
Even if Ramdev bungled first, government’s midnight swoop gave his cause oxygen. The Baba could have bowed out head held high – victimhood always gives the tormented an upper hand.
But the red carpet welcome and then the ignominious ouster gave him wrong notions. He plunged into the fast without a forward strategy or an exit plan. When the government did what it could have done in the first place - give him the cold shoulder, Ramdev had neither anticipated the fizzle-out nor was he prepared for it.
Thinking that millions would join him wherever he was, the Baba had to contend with just 200 odd people heaped together at his ashram.
Then came the second disaster - his ‘call for arms’. Even Anna, who had the previous day held a day-long fast at Rajghat in support of Ramdev’s hunger strike ended up calling him “immature”.
Next came the clamber of saffron leaders to Patanjali Yog Peeth for a photo-op with the Baba, wasting away without a morsel. Seeing Sushma Swaraj, Ashok Singhal, Mohan Bhagwat and Sadhvi Rithambara singing paeans about him, Ramdev lost the sympathy of the neutral citizen in one stroke. However much the Yoga Guru may call allusion to his RSS links a “Congress conspiracy”, his saffron leaning is amply clear. In fact, it is a well known fact that Ramdev nurtured the aspiration to float a political party, but his plans were nipped in the bud by the RSS who were not ready to abandon the BJP.
To lead a civil movement, neutrality is a must. Else, people start perceiving you as a pawn in the wider political game.
By the end of the ninth day of the fast, it was obvious that the Baba and his followers were in desperate search for a face saver. Something to break the impasse so that Ramdev, who had not the slightest of intentions to give himself up at the altar of his cause, was not forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. Worse, his reputation as a Yogi who could easily survive without victuals needed for endurance by the ordinary folk took a thorough beating.
By the end of it all, Baba’s stature was severely stymied.
Importantly, the lesson that Baba Ramdev needs to learn from the clumsy episode is that people living in glass houses should not throw stones at others.
He may have put up a brave front by declaring his assets, but the more discerning citizen would have noticed that what has been made public are the holdings of only four trusts! Baba Ramdev has not even clarified the number of companies he holds - numbers between 32 and 200 are doing the rounds - leave alone declaring their turnover.
He has previously been embroiled in controversies related with forceful eviction of farmers and land grab allegations related with 40 bighas of land in Haridwar. A minor stir had also been caused by accusations related with surreptitious inclusion of human remains and animal bones in his ‘herbal’ medicines.
The one I disapprove the most – his alleged offer of the ‘Putravati’ drug – one which promises to help a woman bear a son. Not only is sex selection illegal in India, the medicine propagates a very negative belief that sons should be preferred over daughters. Whether or not his drug worked, I don’t know, but it did play with sentiments of many gullible women who are constantly under pressure to produce a male heir.
If all this doesn’t help hold up the mirror, Baba Ramdev should see his pictures dressed in a salwar kameez and running for his dear life.