Pranayam to Politics

Himanshu Shekhar

After entering Baba Ramdev in Google search engine, you will find 8,68,000 results in just 0.08 seconds. Google image search is showing 1,54,000 pictures of Baba in just 0.14 second. On the other hand, world’s number one video site YouTube is ready with 8,280 videos of Baba in just 0.09 seconds. These facts clearly reflect the popularity of this yoga guru.

Apart from curing health related problems with yoga, Baba appears to be ready to cure the basic problems of establishment. The issue of Black Money is on his radar. In his Bharat Swabhiman Yatra, he is not only giving yoga lessons but also trying to woo mass support in his movement to cure the problems related to establishment by gaining power.

However, Baba always denied indulging himself in power game but he is keen in floating a new political outfit. He has already announced to contest all 543 Lok Sabha seats in coming general election of 2014. His yatra seems to be a part of that exercise. Baba keeps saying that he will get back the black money deposited by Indians in foreign bank accounts. In a rally Baba said, “Our economy has a huge amount of black money. The government is not doing anything to stop this or to get back the money stashed in Swiss banks. This is a massive amount which means that every family in this country would get Rs. 2.5 lakh. Each District could get Rs. 50,000-60,000 crore for development. Each village would get Rs. 100 crore. It could take our country ahead of many developed nations overnight.”

These words contained with figures appear to be attractive for masses. It’s a fact that the common man of India is still struggling for his livelihood. But on the other hand, a handful of powerful persons are making money. The number of Indian billionaires is increasing by the passing of every year but on the other hand 77 percent of Indians are destined to spend a day on just Rs. 20. In the time of inequalities, the words of Baba are very attractive for them who are feeling the pain of the growing inequalities. Where so ever Baba goes, he receives warm welcome and gathering of 50,000 to 1,00,000 is very common in his yoga camps.

Could this gathering translate into votes? This is a million dollar question, which is keeping political analysts divided. Few believe that Baba will earn electoral gains but many of them are apprehensive about Baba’s electoral performance. It’s evident that bollywood stars are masters in attracting masses but when it comes to converting them into votes, their impact disappears. However, Baba rejects this argument saying, please don’t compare me with them.

Baba is raising the issue of black money and corruption but on the other hand few politicians and religious leaders are pointing their guns to Baba on these very issues. In this foray, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh is perhaps the first politician. He advised Baba not to point fingers at others unless he wanted to bring his own yoga empire under the scanner. According to official documents, Baba has built the empire of Rs. 1100 crore. Baba confirmed the figure in a television interview. Baba was born in a Yadav peasant family in Haryana and he is a middle school dropout. Some religious leaders of Haridwar claimed that few years ago Baba had nothing and he was used to roam on his bicycle. Keeping these things in mind, the empire of Rs. 1100 crore seems unbelievable and it makes one apprehensive too.

In a way, the emergence of the Baba could be attributed to television. Few years ago, he was unknown, but once he started appearing on Aastha, a spiritual television channel, he entered in every household through ‘idiot box’. Health related problems are very common in today’s world of pollution and contamination. Everybody is facing some health related problems and most of us are fed up with allopathic medicines. In these circumstances, Baba appeared on television and claimed to cure every problem just by pranayams and aasans. He was not charging even a single penny for these televised lessons. So, these free problem checkers were enough to raise the popularity of Baba. Those who started pranayams and aasans were getting benefit and it added momentum in emergence of Baba as a national personality. Right from his initial days, he was raising issues related to masses in his yoga camps.

Baba is witty and television friendly too. He knows very well to play with camera movements. It’s evident from his television appearance. Irrespective of the fact, whether he is in yoga camps or in television news studio, he looks like a master of using camera to spread his messages. But, it’s not easy to earn electoral gains by using these techniques. Outlook, weekly news magazine published from New Delhi, quoted social psychologist Ashis Nandy, “The Indian voter is very wily. They may come to his political rallies and love him for teaching them yoga and healthy living. But our democracy is over 60 years old, and the voters too seasoned. Why will, for instance, Dalits forsake Mayawati for Baba Ramdev? Besides, only big parties can win elections and would he be comfortable being a very small player in a very big party?”

It seems that Baba is aware with these challenges. That’s why he is trying to form a national front. An announcement in this regard is expected in coming June. He is planning to reach every village by 2012. It’s a well known fact that Baba has no political or precisely speaking electoral experience. So, if he wish to perform well in coming general elections, he must have to develop a political think tank. The news is doing round that he is getting regular advice from some seasoned politicians. These politicians were a part of mainstream political parties but today they are busy in their own works. Till his death, social activist Rajiv Dixit was playing the role of Baba’s political advisor. It is pertinent to mention that he is the man who added swadeshi angle in Baba’s mission.

Baba is also trying to woo Muslim communtiy to achieve his goal. That’s why Baba reached out to Muslim Ulemas like  Kalbe Rushaid Rizvi. Soon he was conducting yoga sessions in Deoband, with clerics like Maulana Mahmood Madni sharing the dias. Unlike BJP and VHP, Baba Ramdev chose culture instead of religion to garner support from Muslim and other communities. It seems that Baba is branding himself as the messenger and messiah of each and every community.

Baba’s popularity and controversies related to him are increasing simultaneously. In 2006, he was hit by left front leader over alleged use of human and animal remains in the process of making Ayurvedic medicines. At that time, leaders across the party line came in favour of Baba and he heaved sigh of relief. In March 2010, A consignment of Ayurvedic medicine of Yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s Pharmacy was amongst medicines confiscated by authorities claiming that the drugs contained derivatives of a protected plant. The consignment of Divya Pharmacy was seized by Department of Customs at Inland Container Depot, Tuglakabad. All the confiscated drugs contained derivatives of Kuth, a protected plant under Wildlife Protection Act, officials claimed. However, Acharya Balkrishna of Divya Pharmacy denied any wrong doings in this regard.

Chauthi Duniya, a New Delhi based news weekly, published an article saying, “Baba Ramdev was the disciple of Baba Shankardev and they were so close that they lived in the same room. Suddenly the revered Baba Shankardev disappeared in thin air. Nobody ever had any clue as to where he went. His dead body was never found.” Some religious leaders are also raising the issue of mysterious disapperance of Baba Shankardev but any result in this regard is yet to come.

This very publication quoted Baba Hathyogi, National Spokesperson of Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, saying, “If the saints and divines get into the business of exploitation, opening industries and conducting paid meets in the name of Yoga, then what will the people think of us. Our duty has been to guide the people spiritually and not evasion of taxes. In his camps, the seats are auctioned and people are given seats in accordance with the money they dole out to Ramdev. After all this he avails of all that the government has to offer but evades taxes and then tries to project himself as clean and clear calling upon the people to get the Black money stashed in foreign banks back. After all why does he not admit that he too is the legatee of this Black Money racket?”

Although Baba denies any link with any mainstream political party, a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by Afroz Alam Sahil has revealed just how hollow Ramdev’s claim of being apolitical is. The information given in the RTI reply clearly indicates his inclination towards the BJP. Haridwar-based Patanjali Ayurveda Limited, an organisation helmed by Ramdev, had donated Rs 11 lakh to the BJP just before the general elections in 2009. This information was provided by the Election Commission of India. According to the commission, Patanjali Ayurveda had donated the amount to the party through a Punjab National Bank cheque (number 859783) dated March 8, 2009.

Sahil says, “when we contacted Ramdev’s aide Ajay Arya, he tried to laugh away the question: ‘we ourselves survive on donations, whom will we donate?  You might have got some misleading documents.’ When confronted that we have obtained documents through the RTI, he hung up the phone. He, however, called back and put ‘Swamiji’ on line. The Swamiji was none other than Baba Ramdev himself who very politely inquired into the matter and told, ‘I have no knowledge of any such matter. However, you can talk to Acharya Balkrishna Mahraj, who looks after internal matters of the organisation.’ He himself gave his contact number.”

“Soon after we revealed that Yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s firm had donated to BJP, the firm’s head Balkrishna Maharaj, who is close aide of the Yoga guru, called me and gave clarifications. He accepted the fact that Patanjali Ayurveda had paid Rs. 11 lakhs to BJP as donation. Further defending the Yoga guru, he worded that there were many stake holders in the firm and ‘Swamiji’ is also one among them. He said that anyone among our shareholders had donated the sum to the BJP and that the firm had nothing to do with it,” added Sahil.

It’s not going to be easy for Baba to make an electoral mark amid these cntroversies. Attracting a huge crowd and converting it to votes are quite different things. But, it seems that Baba is aware of the fact that the issue of corruption and credibility can make a change

Baba claims that the number of his devotees is 100 crore. Annual turnover of Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogapeeth Trust and Divya Yoga Mandir Trust is Rs. 1,100 crore. Both are located in Haridwar. Earnings from nationwide camps where yoga is taught and health concerns are addressed, is around Rs. 50 crore. The empire earns Rs. 50 crore from sale of medicines and Rs. 2.3 crore from sale of books/CDs. The empire has 300 acres on Little Cumbrae island off the Scottish coast, gifted by an NRI couple worth Rs. 17 crore. Rs. 1,115 crore is the value of 1,000 acres in Haridwar where the trusts’ buildings are located. Baba’s trust is developing a food park in Haridwar with proposed investment of Rs. 500 crore. The empire has acquired 40 per cent stake in a food park in Jharkhand in Rs 44 crore. His trust has invested Rs. 100 crore in Baba’s pet project of University of Patanjali, Haridwar. Rs. 16 lakh is the undervalued cost of 38 acres in Solan, Himachal Pradesh; actual value of this land is around Rs. 90 crore.

3 thoughts on “Pranayam to Politics

  1. Hi,
    Nice article and very impressive. I really llke it and appreciate you to best of luck in future.

    Javed Akther

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