On the face of it, the indignation of Asaram Bapu's followers over his conviction in the Jodhpur rape case may appear enigmatic, indeed stupid. How could the bhaktas claim that he is innocent, people ask. His guilt has been proved in the court of law. So why not accept the bitter truth that their guru is a rapist? We can reach the heart of the enigma if we view a completely different scenario: intellectuals' unending fascination with communism and socialism.
But let's begin with the reaction of the devotees of Asaram. A young and passionate Jyoti (name changed), who said she had been a follower of Asaram for 15 years, refused to believe that her 'gurudev' could ever have committed a crime like rape, PTI reported on the day the verdict was announced. "Even if Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh came and told me that Bapu had done this, I would not believe them. I would say, 'no, no, no' an infinite number of times," she said.
Jitendra Malik from UP's Shamli, who became Asaram's follower 15 years ago, said. "What has happened [to Asaram] is completely wrong. Our Bapu is an all-knowing saint. He is not like Ram Rahim. We will continue to pray for him." In a similar vein, yoga instructor B Mukesh, who served as an ashram in-charge in Bhilwara and Aligarh for over a decade, termed the allegation a "conspiracy" against Asaram.
Karan (name changed) is an Asaram bhakta I have known personally for some time. In his late thirties, he is a slightly built man-and looked slighter on the day Asaram was pronounced guilty. I asked him about his growing frailty. "How can I be good? How can anything be good for people like us? Our bapu has been convicted and maligned, and we can do nothing," his voice was choked with anguish and anger.
He was visibly distraught. A middle class guy, he was doing well in business till a few years ago and planning to marry. But then the charges against Asaram surfaced. Being one of the active followers of the godman, Karan almost immersed himself in his defence. His business suffered; the wedding plans got shelved. To what avail, he agonizingly asks.
It is easy to dismiss or ridicule Asaram's bhaktas as irrational people who can't, or don't want to, see the writing on the wall and in the court judgment. But then most Asaram followers are simple folks in search of guidance from and solace in the wisdom of a guru. What, however, do you make out of the fellow-travellers of communists and socialists? Why did they continue their affair with the theories propounded by Marx, Lenin, and Mao even after the horrors of communism in Russia and China became widely known? Over a million people perished under communist regimes. And why do so many intellectuals still swear by the supposedly humanitarian message of Marxism?
This despite the fact that parlour pinks are very educated people; usually they are thought leaders in any country; they certainly are in India. Let's begin our discourse on the self-imposed blindness of liberals and intellectuals with a glimpse of the global scene. A passage from the historian Paul Johnson's Modern Times is worth quoting here:
In the outside world, the magnitude of the Stalin tyranny - or indeed its very existence - was scarcely grasped at all. Most of those who travelled to Russia were either businessmen, anxious to trade and with no desire to probe or criticize what did not concern them, or intellectuals who came to admire and, still more, to believe. If the decline of Christianity created the modern political zealot - and his crimes - so the evaporation of religious faith among the educated left a vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals easily filled by secular superstitions. There is not other explanation for the credulity with which scientists, accustomed to evaluating evidence, and writers, whose whole function was to study and criticize society, accepted the crudest Stalinist propaganda at its face value. They needed to believe; they wanted to be duped. (emphasis added)
For such worthies, the Soviet Union was their pilgrimage-and you don't go on pilgrimage with a questioning mind. When the devout Hindu doctors, engineers, and scientists go to the Kumbh, they know that the Ganges is polluted and yet they take a dip. Not much dissimilarly, their Left wing counterparts also take a dip - not in the holy Ganges but in the hallowed ideology of Marx and Engels and Lenin and Mao. The result is same in both cases: absolute disregard for the pervasive stench.
And yet, the list of Left-leaning intellectuals reads like the who's who of India's leading lights in every field: there have been writers like Mulk Raj Anand, Munshi Premchand, Sarojini Naidu, Krishan Chander, KA Abbas, Ramananda Chatterjee, and Ram Bilas Sharma; historians like Bipan Chandra and Romila Thapar; economists like Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze; filmmakers like Ritwik Ghatak and Shyam Benegal, and long is the list of luminaries.
But none of them got illumination enough to see the defects of the ideology they admired or the consequences it led to; they didn't let experience and reason rob them of their belief. As Johnson wrote, they needed to believe; they wanted to be duped - just the followers of Asaram.
If the most educated men and women, the persons of heightened consciousness, love to believe at the expense of reason and common sense, simpler folks can scarcely be accused of blind faith. Perhaps, there is a gull in all human beings, even among the wisest, screaming to get out. His easiest way out is faith, which could be offered by a god-man or the god that failed.
(Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a journalist and author. He has spent around 25 years in the media. As a freelance journalist, Kapoor has written for a number of leading publications. He has written four books on Indian politics and its associated institutions.)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)