Sleazy gurus, muddied politics

The one and only time that I have ever met superstar Amitabh Bachchan in my life – at the launch of a French perfume for men and women named after him, nearly a decade ago – I asked him what I had always wanted to know: why he had described politics as a cesspool when he was a member of parliament and why he had quit even before his term was over.

He, of course, ignored the first query but his answer to the second was very revealing. Bachchan said he had contested the 1984 elections from Allahabad out of his friendship with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Notwithstanding the troubles he was put to by veteran Congressmen like VP Singh who believed Bachchan could cut the ground from under their feet if he was allowed to flourish unfettered (that is probably why he thought of politics as a cesspool), he said he had been on a special aircraft to Guwahati in Assam, which was under tremendous strife those days, as one of the campaigners for the Congress at the forthcoming elections.

Activists of the Assam Gana Parishad, which had not yet come to power in the state, had surrounded the aircraft on the tarmac and were not allowing any of the Congress leaders to get through and enter the city. Ultimately looking at the emotions running high, the authorities decided that in the interest of security, it was better for the Congress leaders to return whence they had come from or risk a real conflagration.

As Bachchan reboarded the aircraft, one of the demonstrators came running across to him and stuffed a piece of paper in his hands. When Bachchan began to read the hastily written letter on the return flight, he was stunned by what that boy said.

“Mr Bachcan, you are my hero. I never miss a single film of yours and sometimes see your films six or seven times each. But I hate the Congress. Please do not make me hate you, too. I do not want to stop worshipping you for endorsing the Congress. Just be the hero that you are and we will continue to love you forever.”

Bachchan said he gave that some deep thought and realised the boy was right – he was primarily a film star and his popularity was owing to that profession. He clearly had no business to misuse that popularity to garner votes for a political party and put his fans into a dilemma like this one.

I noticed that, bar Amar Singh when he was with the Samajwadi Party and with whom he had a personal friendship, Bachchan has steadfastly refused to endorse any political party or leader ever since – including Narendra Modi of the BJP.

There was a recent video promoting Modi as Prime Minister that used Bachchan’s voice-over and the veteran was very anguished in his disavowal of that endorsement. He makes it repeatedly clear that he supports neither Modi nor the BJP or even Gujarat; just that he promotes Gujarat’s tourism.

But so many years later I can empathise with that boy in Guwahati who urged Bachchan not to put him into a position of having to choose between one good thing for endorsing what he thought was a bad thing. I now feel the same about Yoga guru Ramdev Baba whose yoga practices I applied to my own life during a spell of terrible illness.

The swift recovery brought about gratitude but now I am being compelled to look at him as a slime ball – not because he is supporting the BJP or any other pary, which he has the complete right to do so, but because of his rather despicable personal comments against his opposition.

I could forgive him for describing Congress general secretary as an asura (though he called Singh an asuraputra) for Singh is quite equal to taking him on, but I think it is completely pointless and needless to rake up Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s friendship with Edwina Mountbatten and give it a sly, sleazy twist, to talk about Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s character — they are both dead and cannot defend themselves.

Also, I do not think Rahul Gandhi’s alleged multiple girlfriends have anything to do with yoga or elections either.

Why should people care about Rahul Gandhi’s girlfriends or not and how does Pandit Nehru’s private friendships of more than a half century ago have any bearing on the country today?

I think it is only a human being of very low calibre who would use such sleaze to score points against his rivals and I notice that though the BJP may be opposed to the Congress bitterly at all the elections coming up in the states this winter, none of its leaders targets any of their rivals in such reptilian fashion.

Barring Narendra Modi, of course who, apart from targetting Union minister Shashi Tharoor for allegedly having a 50 crore girlfriend, once described Sonia Gandhi as a Jersey cow and Rahul as her hybrid calf.

Ramdev should be reminded that the BJP lost that election to the Congress in 2004 and has so far not been able to score any substantial victory over either the Congress or the Nehru-Gandhis.

In my part of the world, Gopinath Munde of the BJP was never targeted by his rivals over his alleged illicit relationship with a tamasha dancer which was common knowledge in the 1990s and even Bal Thackeray was left well alone over his indulgences towards certain people he had no business having relationships with.

Even we, as journalists, followed the rules set by the Congress politicians vis-à-vis their rivals at the time –- keep the personal attack strictly out of the purview of public meetings and election campaigns. They were all cleaner at the time, even if leaders like Thackeray indulged in occasional mimicry of Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders like Sharad Pawar.

But clearly now Ramdev Baba is under some tremendous pressure to lose his own character and the ’shuchita’ and ’samrasta’ that were the bywords of the BJP in the decade of Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani is over. Even if they may not be indulging in these kinds of cretinous behaviour, since Ramdev Baba campaigns on their behalf, I believe they should be advising him to restrain or stand in danger of allowing the Congress to be seen as victims and run away with a lot of sympathy.

They should remember what happened in Mahaashtra in 1998 when Pramod Mahajan, at a public meeting in Gondia, equated Sonia Gandhi with Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton’s infamous intern who was making headlines in those years.

The Congress was waiting for just such an oportunity to enliven its campaign and they went to town over the insult to the widow of their late leader. The party won 42 of the 48 seats from Maharashtra that helped the Congress to reach the 3-digit figure in the Lok Sabha.

Else the party would have sunk below the 100-members mark and may never have risen again to form the UPA six years later.

They have the BJP to thank for their resurrection and may just be looking for such an opportunity in states like Madhya Pradesh where they have little chance of a return to power. Perhaps, then, Ramdev’s rantings are a conspiracy against the BJP? After their support to Asaram Bapu what does that tell us about godmen and the BJP?

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