I didn’t know about Baba Ramdev until I came back to NITK after second year break to find my roommate expertly doing Yoga routines every morning. She had learnt it from Aastha TV, apparently. I was transfixed, and quite skeptical.
I was (and am) deeply skeptical of anyone who promises instant moksha or teaches everything in ‘easy ways’…. and I react sharply to people learning life-changing stuff from someone on TV. One reason is because one size doesn’t fit all, especially with respect to things that are supposed to influence your health, or belief systems. So while I’d seen Baba Ramdev on Aastha while changing channels, I’d not paid much attention to him.
It took me that long to find out just how much influence he had on the Hindi-speaking parts of the country. And from what I saw and heard, he didn’t seem the selfish charlatan sorts or a fly-by-night operator, both of which I’ve come across quite often.
I’ve not come across such good use of the mass media which actually works. There are these science lessons on some obscure radio station I’ve come across in Bangalore, and radio doctor programmes, but I’ve not seen any equivalent for television. And for just that, the Baba has my *respect* .
His views on homosexuality are unfortunate and questionable to say the least, and deserve much ridicule, but are not uncommon; I’m willing to bet over half of the urban educated folk who ridicule those views of his are homophobic to some (great) degree.
Going over his asking for death penalties for corruption and stuff, I fully agree he doesn’t know what he’s going on about. There are tons of articles lampooning his seemingly unreasonable demands, and it’s pretty easy to come up with a http://www.ramdevwants.com on the lines of chucknorrisfacts or schneierfacts, [‘item #23416: Baba Ramdev wants a One Macbook Per Child project subsidized by the government’], but I strangely don’t want to do that [But if you do, please do credit me on the website]. There’s a saying by Tina Fey that if you aim for the moon, you’ll atleast get to Houston. [No, she didn’t say that, I did, yesterday when I was discussing politics in a state of half-sleep]. If you want a bicycle, you need to ask for an Activa.
You need to put forth unreasonable demands so that the majority of the nation feels ‘OMG, that’s crazy, he should be asking for [list of more reasonable demands]’. If you put forth just [list of reasonable demands], no one, least of all, the media, is going to notice it. And in this era of information explosion, I can personally testify that you don’t hear about stuff unless it is very good or very bad. If you want to capture the imagination of the nation, you have to be outrageous. You have to out-crazy the craziness the media generally follows.
Additionally, even in spite of demands that completely make no sense, he has such a lot of support. That is because it provides a lot of people a way to channel the outrage they feel, especially since those areas are where the government and bureaucracy matters and corruption affects whom much more than it matters to those of us in big cities. Such a grassroots-level mass uprising hasn’t happened in a long while, and it’s long overdue especially given what the center is doing to us in its UPA-II avatar. Such a public show of support for an idea is essential to nudge the middle class out of its complacence.
Now I certainly don’t support death penalty for corrupt people. But I also don’t support all the outrage that was spilled when Ram Jethmalani agreed to be Manu Sharma’s lawyer. The defining bit of a democracy is that people have liberty to go wrong, and be assumed innocent till they are proven guilty. To err is human and everyone could do with a chance to better themselves, and every punishment should fit the crime. In that way, the trial-by-media that ensued after Jessica Lall’s murder was no different from a lynch mob or a khap.
There’s got to be these incidents that let a democracy blow off steam and let them know what they feel deep inside. It’ll be crazy, it’ll be asking too much, it’ll be completely unreal. But it needs to happen. You need the crazy ideas and exaggerations to drive home the points, to soften people up to listening to the saner ideas. Like in Stranger in a Strange land, to get the nurse to put a single bug on the alien’s door, the reporter gives a chapter-long list of possible doomsday-ish scenarios.
Now I’ll sincerely hope the Baba doesn’t take to standing in elections or anything like that; the last thing we want is the anti-Congress votes being split. But we certainly require incidents like this to serve as our wake up calls, especially at a time when people think their duty is over when they ‘Like’ a Facebook community against corruption. Maybe one day it’ll strike us all that when we say “Yeah, the Lokpal proposals are outrageous, but they can certainly be improved’, that we can also similarly ‘improve’ existing laws and provisions against corruption and other things, such that a Lokpal Bill won’t even be necessary. Maybe it’ll dawn upon us that we can have a Uniform Civil Code. Or a stronger anti-terrorism law. Or make it easier for entrepreneurs to set up new businesses. Or build newer and better roads. Or strengthen primary education.
PS: What happened to that Lead India guy, RK Misra? He seemed to be one of those street-smart fellas who knew to play to the gallery while making his points heard… I totally enjoyed him on a panel discussion at NITK. He joined BJP I know, but we haven’t heard a peep out of him since then…. what’s he doing now?
PPS: I wonder what Dr. Rajeev Gowda’s opinions on Jairam Ramesh’s ‘IIMs Suck’ comments are. I ask for Dr. Rajeev Gowda because he’s a Congress guy, while also being a prof at IIMB (and an excellent quizzer too).. his perspective would be an interesting and enlightening one. Did no mediapersons think of posing this question to him?