Just what the doctor ordered
I have been a fan of Swami Ramdev Baba’s for years – ever since the time, half a decade ago, when his desi remedies for jaundice pulled me back from the brink. It was bitter medicine but it worked and, notwithstanding Left leader Brinda Karat’s brief defamatory campaign against him (she had alleged he uses human bones in his concoctions), I have substituted most medicines for common ailments like coughs and colds with Baba Ramdev’s prescriptions.
Most of my friends laugh at me for that. Of course, the fact that three of my neighbours are doctors doesn’t help – they are not very amused at my enthusiastic recommendation of Baba Ramdev, for all small and big ailments, to all and sundry, day or night.
So they have now been poking even greater fun at me since Ramdev Baba’s campaign against black money began. “So you think one fast is a panacea for everything that ails this country?”’’ my immediate neighbour, an eminent physician, laughed. “He’s what I told you he was long ago – a charlatan and a fraud. Only, now his stage is political. And he thinks he can run away with the country’s agenda.’’
Actually, I have not had much of a response to that kind of ridicule – and it is not just the doctors among my neighbours who have been heaping that upon me. “If he is a yoga guru, he should stick to being a yoga guru. I am even willing to try some of his remedies. But replacing English with Hindi and other regional languages for engineering and medicine? Does he know what he is talking about? That will not just break up the country into regional parts, it will also deny all our children a fair chance at international competition,’’ the lady opposite, a housewife, told me.
I have discovered since that, notwithstanding the lakhs and crores that might be gathering at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi for his fast, most of my neighbours think, if charitably, of Baba Ramdev as politically naïve. And harshly, as a megalomaniac in search of a raison d’etre.
My neighbourhood is fairly divided between secular and saffron voters – and both kinds are suspicious. Saffron supporters believe Ramdev is playing to the Congress tune to destroy the movement began by Anna Hazare and divert the nation’s attention from the Jan Lokpal Bill. To that extent, they both laugh and others point with outrage to the “farce’’ played out at the New Delhi airport a couple of days ago when four top-ranking ministers in government laid out the red carpet for the yoga guru.
“What is his locus standi, after all, that he should be treated with such honour and respect when Anna Hazare was left hungry ad thirsty for days at Jantar Mantar? And why did it take so long for the government to heed to Anna’s demands, with not even a single minister making the effort to meet him?’’
But Congress supporters, too, are equally suspicious, pointing to the Rashtriya Swayamsvak Sangh’s (RSS) call to join Ramdev’s anti-corruption crusade. “The RSS was not so forthcoming towards Anna Hazare. So why have they joined Ramdev’s campaign with such alacrity? The lakhs of people gathering at Ramlila grounds are none other than RSS pracharaks and families of their supporters. So spare us your arguments in support of him,’’ they say.
I wonder, then, if Ramdev realises, he is caught between the devil and the deep sea for, I am sure, the reactions of my neighbourhood might be replicating all over the country.
I did glean and see a glimmer of truth in my neighbours’ arguments. The doctors, I might consider biased and motivated. But if common people are beginning to be suspicious – and angry at his followers equating him to Swami Vivekananda, et al – there must be something that is not quite right with the manner in which Ramdev is conducting his campaign.
I can understand the need of the government to turn Baba Ramdev’s campaign into a farce. But, I believe, even Ramdev has contributed to it – impossible demands like death penalty for corruption, use of regional languages to teach medicine and engineering that will effectively block students’ chances to compete with the best abroad, comparing French and German systems to Indian ones, demanding the denotification of 500 and 1000 rupee currency notes are all part of the impractical, if not the impossible.
And, if Ramdev Baba believes that bringing back all that black money stashed abroad alone is enough to alleviate poverty in the country, he needs a crash course in both economics and politics.
But give it to our politicians – both of the Congress and the BJP hues. Both parties, this time, have succeeded speaking out of both sides of the mouth by at once supporting Baba Ramdev and keeping a safe distance from him. Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh’s rants against Ramdev being more a businessman than a sanyasi has been the counter to his wooing by the government’s top ministers. The BJP’s half-hearted offer of support to his campaign along with a clever wait and watch attitude before getting closer or more overt closes no doors on the yoga guru while keeping a window wide open.
I think the only ill-advised action has been the RSS’s: by declaring open support to Ramdev, they might just have succeeded in giving his campaign an overt political colour, discrediting the Baba’s neutrality and driving thousands of apolitical supporters, who might otherwise have joined his anti-corruption crusade, away from the Ramlila grounds.
Somewhat like what Amitabh Bachchan once told me at my one and only interaction with him: he had decided never to contest elections again after an incident in Assam where a non-Congress supporter told him how difficult he had made it for his fans to choose between Bachchan, the actor and Bachchan, the politician. “He told me, `Mr Bachchan, don’t make us choose.’ I was in danger of losing millions of my fans who hated the Congress and just could not support me for being a Congress MP. So I decided to stay apolitical.’’
So with baba Ramdev one has to wait and see how many of them are actually his supporters no matter what. And how many are just apolitical yoga followers who, like Amitabh Bachchan’s fans, might not wish to walk to the end of the road with him
But wasn’t that just what the Congress wanted? And, of course, what my neighbour-doctor ordered?