Yogi enters politics

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Decades after independence, when people are disgusted to the marrow by rampant corruption, unequal distribution of wealth, conflict of interest, cronyism, self-enrichment of politicians, a corrupt judiciary which lets off high profile criminals and harasses innocent civilians, they respond to the calls of the most popular yogi in mass rallies. The Swami’s movement is sending shivers down the spine of those who have taken the people for granted and believed that electors have no alternative than go back to the mainstream parties and hence built up a political security which will protect them for ever. This security and the no-alternative credo are strongly challenged by a 45-year-old swami who claims to have more than a billion followers in the world. 

Swami Ramdev is determined to clean India of the dirt and muck that has been stinking across the country for the past years.

His critics, mainly from the Congress Party, emphasize his lack of formal education and his being a middle school drop-out. The party’s general secretary is threatening to bring the swami-yoga-empire under the scanner. Others draw attention to his ignorance in science and anatomy in his yoga teachings. And more others criticize the billion-crore yoga business the swami is sitting on.
His followers reply that convent-educated middle-class Indians do not know the profound teachings of Hindu scriptures, which are not dogmatic, and that sadhus can assume their duty actively in guiding society in the right direction, use the modern means available to them and yet be above the apparent materialistic preoccupations and withdraw into their inner world when they want to.

The criticism centering on being a middle school drop-out makes his supporters laugh given what diploma-armed people are capable of.

Stop the Mauritius route

Baba Ramdev is not rallying across the country alone. His yoga empire in India and across the world is run by professional managers. At every arrival at airports, he is met by a wide number of supporters and cars following his whereabouts. It is no secret that eminent economists, lawyers and a myriad of officers are advising him on the political agenda he is presenting to the public.

In fact, the swami claims that 300-lakh crores of black money should make its way back to the Indian state’s coffers, that every politician, MP and minister should be kept under close scrutiny, that death penalty should be applied to those found guilty of all forms of corruption and embezzlement that so far go unpunished, demands that the Mauritius route be closed and the licences of twelve banks be revoked, that black money from foreign accounts be brought back home, that foreign looters in India be driven out. He also intends to bring to task the inefficient, slow and corrupt Indian judiciary of which no criminals are afraid except innocent men.

Garibi Hatao, Aam Aadmi and Swadesh

In his yoga teachings and mass gatherings, Swami Ramdev meets 2000 people daily. He is undertaking a national rally to explain to villagers how black money, corruption and mismanagement of funds affect their daily life, how that money can be used so that every poor family can prosper, how poverty can be erased.

His recent rally in Assam drew a crowd of 70 000 people. His agenda: sensitize public opinion on the havoc caused by ethnicity, caste and religions in politics, boost up patriotism and exhort the public to support home-made industrial and agricultural products.

To carry out his political agenda, he is cobbling together a national front of several national, regional parties and independents, choosing only those who are corrupt-free.

Baba Ramdev is said to be an effective communicator; his strength lies in his nationwide rally to connect to the people. Besides providing medical care in hospitals and yoga centres in India, the swami is determined to cleanse the Augean stables of politics. Undeterred by critics, his only belongings are his saffron robe and his clogs, the Yadav Rajput caste-born swami says.

Across India, people are not asking whether Baba Ramdev and his team will deliver, they just want a change from the mainstream parties that have been governing them ever since Independence. So why not Baba Ramdev?

* * *

Women in politics

Up to now, a number of female leaders have ascended the hierarchy of leadership within a patriarchal political structure. India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Pakistan, prime ministers and presidents were daughters or wives of male leaders. Only Golda Meir can be singled out as a self-made politician.

The other question is: what progress is there when women politicians govern like their male counterparts in perpetuating the negative behavioural pattern of arrogance, self-interest and authoritarianism? When they think of feathering their own nest and that of relatives, and they are equally inefficient administrators as their male colleagues?

The buzz words of parity, quota and empowerment repeated in international fora are not really the panacea for all evils in politics and society. Be they male or female, should we not be more demanding in getting politicians with a higher IQ/EQ to govern the country?

Overwhelming patriarchy

What is mostly felt in most societies today is the predominance of male values within a patriarchal system. Throughout the course of history, women have held high political positions. In colonial America, women from matriarchal Indian tribes were said to be excellent negotiators in their dealings with the newly-arrived settlers from England.

In Africa, women used to be held in high respect as spiritual figures for the female intuition and intelligence they display. In Europe, queens and intellectuals had had a strong influence on the conduct of political affairs while remaining in the shadow of their husbands.

Today, the male values of competition and aggressivity are actively displayed in international relations. Parade of warships on the high seas to threaten enemies, Iran, the US, Israel and China are all at it. Is the 9.8% annual growth of China plunging India in a frantic bid to enhance its 8.6%growth by digging tons of iron , bauxite and ore to be shipped off to Chinese factories regardless of the harm done to local populations in India? The machistic instinct is prevalent in all the aggressiveness, competition for power and domination that characterize a large part of economic and political spheres.

Disillusion in liberation

Evolution is cyclical and not linear. Once women have had access to careers in most sectors, a sense of disillusionment seems to arise here and there. Competing and fighting to get jobs, the uncertainty of job security and financial stability prompts women to yearn for the comfortable family cocoon at home and attend to their beloved ones, and leave all the stress and harassment of daily life to men.

There seems to be mixed feelings about what contributes to happiness. Is working outside as well as at home not too much to bear? Yet, thousands of women have discovered and appreciated the new freedom that went along with working. After a few years of work experience, some women would rather leave that burden to men and stay comfortably at home and still aspire to influence society and politics in a different way. Provided they are given the space to interact.

Evolution is moving forward and breaking barriers, it is believed. To what extent, time will tell.

* Published in print edition on 11 March 2011

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