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Friday, 10 June 2011

Loony or Messiah?



The last few days saw the surging anti-corruption movement in India suffer an affront with Baba Ramdev’s supporters being lathi charged in Delhi. This has prompted Ramdev to declare he will form a militia of 11,000 armed soldiers. Is Baba Ramdev a guiding light to the movement or will he potentially derail this rare chance for Indians to wipe the window to the gears of Government clean?
Baba Ramdev’s wide influence in India cannot be overstated. He has for many years been a televised Yogi with an audience of millions of people. I cannot tell you how surreal it was to be sitting in Arunachal Pradesh, the remotest state of India, to be lectured on the benefits of Ramdev’s signature explosive breathing. The late tribal Minister, who was enthusiastically telling me this, was convinced this would cure his hypertension. As indeed Ramdev’s drug company insists that his herbal remedies cure HIV and cancer.
This creative entrepreneurship has spawned an empire worth many millions.
This is a break from the Swami tradition of austerity. Gandhiji on being asked why on earth he travelled third class replied because there is no fourth class. If Ramdev was asked why he was travelling in an aircraft’s first class he would reply because I couldn’t charter the whole blessed aircraft, which is exactly what he does.
But India has changed. This hedonistic behavior inspires awe not disdain. His eccentricities are swallowed whole by millions of followers.
Including his five-point plan. 100% voting. 100% Nationalistic thought. 100% boycott of foreign companies. 100% unification of the country. 100% yoga oriented nation.
These tickle me but his points that address corruption make me sit up and pay attention. The death penalty for graft convictions amongst them. This would be a sound move if it didn’t involve the impracticality of liquidating the entire political class but it is academically deeply satisfying.
The repatriation of the estimated trillion dollars in Swiss bank accounts. I have met industrialists who openly admit to having offshore accounts. It seems there is a finite amount of black money you can blow up in 5 stars and weddings attended by a populace that would qualify as a New Zealand city.
He has tempered these Swadeshi instincts with a reported purchase of a Scottish Island for several million pounds. Which is a just spare change for a man worth 1,100 crore.
But can we be too precious about the individuals who are leading the people to what we pray is a historical change? Who gives a monkey’s uncle if the diseased limb of corruption is severed by a scalpel or a garden spade?
Yes, Ramdev is the polar opposite of Hazare. Hazare is the cleaner than clean Gandhian. Not the MLA Gandhian who habitually sports a gold Mount Blanc pen in his kardi kurta pocket but the real deal. Hazare would sooner starve to death than charter an aircraft. Yes, this has gained a deep respect but not a universal respect. No contemporary politician has understood this modern voter burnout to Gandhian austerity like Mayawati.
Mayawati, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, understands down to her chopals that Gandhism isn’t moving off the shelves like it used to. She sells bling. She shamelessly flaunts her massive personal wealth like a West Coast rapper and commissions pharaoh like memorials to her living self. The dalits love it. She’s one of them and they want to be like her.
They no longer respect Gandhian ideals because the lifestyle they aspire to rid themselves of is in fact Gandhian and is practiced out of simply having no choice. They are now revolted by the hypocrisy of money grabbing gangsters shouting twisted versions of the Gandhian gospel. Ramdev is unashamedly capitalist, much like the electorate.
He still has a long journey to be an enduring national leader. For India’s villagers are uneducated and because of this they rely on a steel strong instinct for a person’s character. Will he stand up to this aggressive litmus test? Will the result be saffron or a cowardly yellow?
What is indisputable is that Ramdev is a marketable hybrid of emerging India’s worlds. The jet setting sadhu. A living metaphor of India’s half complete metamorphosis from spiritual socialism to globalisation.
He has my reluctant vote because I think he can learn to not talk of armed revolution when having fasted for three days. He has the vote too of 85 year old K.L. Gupta who made his way from Indore to Rajghat, alone and in 40 degree weather. Even with his catheter bag he slept outside on Delhi’s pavements so he could pray with Hazare and Ramdev for his beloved India.

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