Government

Crony Babaism is Undermining the Indian Republic

The godman has become an accomplice in the million injustices that scar this land every day. In turn, the politician finds ways to ensure the baba’s revenue model enjoys state protection and patronage.

baba-ramdev-modi-pib

Raja and Guru: File photo of Baba Ramdev and Prime Minister Modi. Credit: PMO

Suddenly, the outlines of a new phenomenon are becoming familiar. And there can be only one word for this revealing convergence of individuals, ideas and institutions: crony babaism.

For a start, let us recall last Tuesday – the concluding day of the ‘Happening Haryana Global Investors Summit’ in Gurgaon. The event was meant to showcase the state after last month’s horrifying collapse of order and authority. On the first day, six-odd Central ministers lent their presence and the weight of their office to project the image of the state government being a modern arrangement, attending to routine governance issues. Also in attendance was the travelling circus of “MoU investors”, making more meaningless promises than does an average district-level demagogue. On Tuesday, the same venue, same government, same ministers were now blessed by two gurus: Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. On the first day, the chief minister and his ministerial colleagues looked tense and unsure. On the second, in the company of the holy men, they looked engaged and ebullient.

Not long ago, we had learnt that the Indian state’s authorised custodians — who otherwise are expected to make wise and prudent decisions about national security — had concluded that Baba Ramdev needed to be provided with what is called ‘Z-plus security’. The New Age baba needs the paraphernalia of power and prominence. Then a few days ago, it was reported that even his business units would henceforth be guarded by the Central Industrial Security Force. But the crony synergy between the state and the baba is most evident in the whole caboodle called the World Culture Festival being organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. On Wednesday, the National Green Tribunal, the institutional body charged with the responsibility of saving us from ecological violations, surrendered to the logic of crony babaism. But the defiant guru refuses to accept the gentlest of raps on the holy knuckle.

It is hard to believe that the NGT’s thinking was not influenced by the fact Prime Minister Narendra Modi was billed to attend the inaugural function. And because a prime minister is to participate in an event, it can no longer be called a private affair of this or that guru. QED. How convenient.

Both gurus have emerged in recent months as the new sarkari sages, celebrated symbols of the creeping phenomenon of crony babaism. Their salience is to be understood and appreciated in the context of the presumed renaissance at work. Both Ramdev and Sri Sri have sought to market themselves as global brand ambassadors of India’s soft power. Since we do not have much of hard power — what with those 10 guys from across the border still obviously roaming around unapprehended — successive governments have come to put great store by soft power. The earlier soft emphasis has now become a loud shout. Since the advent of the jumla government, we are being periodically fobbed off with dreams of India becoming ‘vishwa guru‘ – guru to the world – a position we are supposed to have occupied in that distant golden age of national glory.

Nor should anyone be surprised that the Aam Aadmi Party government had sought the conscription of army jawans for building a few approach bridges for the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gathering. It may be worth recalling that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as well as Baba Ramdev were at the mobilising core of the long-forgotten Anna Hazare movement. It was that presumably anti-corruption crusade that ended up spawning both Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi. The linkages do have a way of popping up, however inconvenient.

And, what have we accomplished? The most secular institution of the Indian state — the Indian army — has unthinkingly been inserted in a somewhat shabby and showy venture. This is the second instance of the Indian army’s institutional prestige being trifled with. Equally thoughtlessly, it may be recalled, the army was introduced in the Haryana battleground but not used — with consequences injurious to the army’s institutional health and reputation.

However, the baba and the guru are not the only ‘political’ swamis. As a nation, we are overly blessed with a surfeit of deras, maths, ashrams and their cultic “masters” — and, each one seeks to bend the state to his or her holy advantage. Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Shankar have become more visible — some would say have become an eyesore — only because of an in-your-face flaunting of their political connections. To be fair to them, they have never made a secret of their sympathies and proximities. And again, it would be unfair to single them out for wanting to garner political clout. The clever politician is only too happy to be a benami partner with them. For example, during the troubled and tortured first decade of the 21st century, the Swaminarayan leadership was used to put the sect’s imprimatur on the Narendra Modi regime and its aberrations.

Curiously enough — and, this is more than curious — the crony baba does not claim to be stepping into the shoes of the traditional rajguru. In the ancient days, the rajguru was a figure of moral authority, empowered to impose on the raja the righteous discipline of rajdharma. Today’s crony baba conveniently keeps away from exercising the option of moral leadership. A “His Holiness”, for example, would not speak up on the issue of women’s entry into temples.

In search of bailout

The crony baba, instead, claims to be in the business of tending to the spiritual well-being of the citizens. Admittedly, societies seek to build bulwarks against cultural disruption and protect themselves from being wrecked by the relentless march of globalisation. The spiritual sales-pitch allows the ‘master’ to pretend that he is resuscitating the solidarity of religious rituals and habits. This ruse allows the holy master to position himself above the mundane issues that would agitate, say, a Kanhaiya Kumar. The godman becomes an accomplice in the million injustices that scar this land every day.

Now that the spiritual master has also become a businessman, each godman has a different ‘revenue model’ that needs the state’s patronage and protection. In the process, the self-claimed spiritual guru acquires worldly interests and baggage, which need, occasionally, protection from the law. This vulnerability nudges the holy fakir into the unholy tentacles of crony babaism. And that suits the politician – suits him rather well.

The average politician knows he has squandered away his most precious asset — moral authority, and with that any exclusive claim to assert his right as the custodian of public interest. The politician seeks to bolster his depleted authority through an association with this guru or that swami.

The law, too, finds ways to oblige the crony baba, just as it invariably bails out the crony capitalist at the last minute. Just as the crony capitalist can gain easy access to the most powerful offices, so does the crony baba.

All this crony babaism adds up to an assault on republican virtues and secular values in a way that is clearly unhelpful. The visible patronage of the state and its authorised agents on a gaggle of convenient godmen has somehow weakened the spirit of our constitutional covenants.

Harish Khare is Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune

Courtesy: The Tribune

  • Rama Krishna

    Mr. Khare’s article about Ramdev, Sri Sri and other public-spirited “babas” is interesting and it would also be respectable (despite its childish euphemisms for Ramdev and Modi), but his motivation — his admitted Communist bias — totally destroys its credibility.

  • elliven

    Your reasoning – or lack thereof – makes my head spin. “these Babas and gurus have more ethical and moral then those noble prize winner or some screw ball drug companies CEO work or act as adviser. India is not west.” And as regards your triumphant closing line: “Baba ramdev if he had different color skin or borne in west then he would be getting every year noble prize!” No, if he was born in the west, he would be treated exactly the way other cult leaders over there are treated: as a joke.

  • Tanya18

    What exactly is the point you are making in this roundabout piece? Are you saying these babas are doing something wrong? If so, pl spell out exactly what is objectionable about them, according to YOU. Are you saying babas, in general, should be kept out of life? If so, pl explain why you would think so – any crony leftism is not reasonable enough, sorry. Are you saying they are interfering in government work? Or influencing decisions? If so, explain with examples. Otherwise, this is just specious nonsense that you churned out because you wanted some money, from the website, and an airing of your general unhappiness with life. Raise your standards. Look up, there is a lot of room above you.

  • Tanya18

    Criticise with reason, give your reasons. you can’t criticise somebody because you do not like his face or that he wears saffron robes.

  • prem

    You could have used your reply to present even a minor data point to substantiate your argument that there is, in fact, some communist bias to the article. But you have wasted this opportunity as well and have instead continued to persist in your ad-hominem attack – but this time you are opting to justify it.