Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Fasting: Ramdev, Arundhati Roy and other People
Tried and tested in South Africa, perfected in India, Satygraha aka fasting for a cause was Gandhiji’s mode to move a mass to see reason and towards sense. Satyagraha (literally translated as ‘the desire for truth’) does not directly translate into fasting. Fasting is a method to achieve ‘truth’ and more than a method it is a mover of conscience. Whoever takes up this method and make it a successful medium to achieve the desired ends, whether it be the bringing back and exposure of black money hoarded in the banks abroad or the articulation of Lokpal Bill, he or she needs to gain the confidence of the mass, not just that of the disciples and soothsayers.
Within a span of three months, we have made comedy out of the grand plan called ‘Fasting’ as a political tool. Started by Anna Hazare at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, the first fasting of the 21st century India was all for the re-articulation and implementation of the Lokpal Bill. He could make the nation wake up and speak against the corruption (as well as the corrupt personalities) in public life but unfortunately it was soon hijacked by the so called spiritual leaders like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
One does not dispute the fact that these spiritual teachers or to be precise fitness trainers or wellness agents do have a mass appeal and mass following. But we know it for sure that most of these followers are either people who have lost interest in everything else other than their own health problems. Some people are spiritually affected and they need a guide to show them the path. Some are affected by a variety of life style illnesses and they need a trainer who could show them ways to do physical exercises in whichever given contexts; it could be in a park lawn, park bench, in your armchair, in your drawing room or on your terrace. These trainers have packaged these exercises within in the saffron foil that makes it more appealing in country like India where Hindu spiritualism is the only binding glue considering the variety of interests, factions and hierarchies within the Hindu fold.
To do physical exercise you don’t need the garb of a religion (If it is faith healing, the case is different). You don’t basically insist that you should know the religion of the doctor (or even the caste to which he or she belongs to) when you go to a hospital. You need medical assistance. A physical trainer’s religion is immaterial. His expertise in healing you and assisting you towards your well being is more important than the color of his faith. But we willingly suspend our disbelief when it comes to people like Baba Ramdev. He is a physical trainer but we consider him for a spiritual guru. I see thousands of Indian citizens sitting on the park benches during dawn and dusk, pulling their stomach muscles violently in and out because Ramdev tells them to do so. Perfect. I don’t believe that all these seekers of physical wellness ever consider Ramdev as a spiritual or political leader. Then in willing suspension of disbelief anything could happen, including poetry.
Though the saffron brigade still hates Gandhiji for appeasing the minorities during his struggle for Indian independence and after that, they don’t find Satygraha (fasting) less lucrative when it comes to the achievement of political ends. What they do is to use the ‘brand’ value of Gandhiji to promote their own purposes. It is exactly like a juice vendor in a village corner painting his makeshift juice shop with the portraits of Shah Rukh Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit. Billu Paan Walaa will endorse his pan with a photo of Amitabh Bacchan in Don (khai ke paan banaras walah). For Ramdev, Gandhiji is an easy brand to be used without paying much to anyone (including the people of India). I like when Arudhanti Roy says, ‘When there is cancer hospital (by a corporate) somewhere, believe me there would be a bauxite hill around’. When someone uses or evokes Gandhiji, trust me, there is a political end around the corner.
Anna Hazare was right up to an extent when he took up fasting as a tool to evoke the conscience of the people. But when it comes to Ramdev, he looks for a gain of his own. Ramdev did not have a political agenda that would be appealing to the diversified population of India, its diversified problems and demands. Ramdev is a seller of his products, yoga exercise. If someone thinks that Ramdev’s innumerable followers (followers of his exercise regime) believes in his personal agenda he is terribly mistaken. None believes in Ramdev except for his exercise. Ramdev is not a political leader with a mass appeal or a clear track record to move the conscience of a nation. He is a corporate physical trainer in saffron garbs. Nothing more nothing less.
In 1947, after independence, when riots continued to rage all over India, Gandhiji went to Calcutta and stayed in a house which was open from all sides so that people could see him ‘fasting’. In three days time rioters from all communities came to surrender their weapons. Gandhiji could move them to do so. That’s why Lord Mountbatten said, ‘he (Gandhiji) could achieve what 50,000 strong army could not’. Look at Ramdev’s pandal in the Ramlila grounds in Old Delhi; air conditioned pandals. And who were the people who got affected in the midnight police action? Poor people from around Delhi, outskirts of the city and from the villages of Bihar, UP and so on, carted in specially for the purpose; to add strength Ramdev’s personal power. Couldn’t we think that most of them came out of curiosity, against a payment and for the sheer enjoyment of the air- conditioners in the midst of the scorching North Indian Summer?
When children boycotted their classes, women parted away with their jewelries, old people walked all the way, all just to have a glimpse of the scarcely clad old man called Gandhiji, they knew why they were going. They wanted freedom and they believed that this man could bring it and they would have done anything for this man. And they did it. Today, no leader in India attracts a crowd. None willingly travel miles to catch a glimpse of a leader with a conscience and purpose because they have pawned it for their political career and besides they have already overfed the populace with their looks through the media. People are now nauseous. They don’t want to see leaders, they want deliverers (both in its materialistic and spiritual sense).
Ramdev has made a mockery out of fasting. Now fasting does not hold any value for the Indian mass because they so called leaders have made a farce out of it. When Gandhiji fasted the whole of India knew the value of fasting. Today the Indian middle class does not know value of hunger that’s why during the housing colony meetings they even seriously thinking about conducting fasts for the upliftment of the parks and roads, and later they have a good laugh over it. For the obese Indian middle class, fasting is a joke created at the expense of the poor, who are really hungry.
That’s why you like it when Arundhati Roy says, ‘what is the use of telling people go on hunger strike, who are really hungry throughout the year’ (paraphrased from her latest book, ‘Broken Republic). She does not advocate violence but at the same time she does not denounce it either. She does not justify the Maoist killings, but she just asks how the violence could be denounced when the political and corporate hegemonies that have pushed their life into the forests cannot be justified. When your child is ill treated in his or her class room when you know that you pay a hefty amount as fee for education, you feel the outrage and you create a scene in the PTMs. Then what about those people whose mothers and sisters are raped and killed before their eyes, what about those people whose brothers and fathers are beheaded mercilessly before them? Wouldn’t they retaliate once? Is it wrong if they feel outraged?
Seen against such realities, Ramdev looks like a joker; a man with no agenda than propagating his personal career. Some people mistake their popularity and they take it for granted. They think that the whole nation moves when they make some comic gestures. Just like Sonam Kapoor’s butts were real or not at Cannes (as reported by Hindustan Times).
Only the keepers of a nation’s conscience could move it by fasting. Physical trainers cannot. Perhaps Arundhati Roy could.