July 18, 2011

An Open Letter to Baba Ramdev (The Times of India, July 18, 2011)

Satyagraha is Much More than Hunger Strike

Dear Baba Ramdev,
Just a few weeks ago, you were the envy of politicians, most of who ferry people and rely on bribes to bring people to attend their rallies. In contrast, you had a devoted following who supported your anti-corruption campaign by coming to Ramlila Maidan at their own cost and dipping into their wallets to support movement. The numerous trusts and institutions you have set up are flush with funds. You have an army of dedicated cadres spread across the country who could play an important role as watchdogs of democracy, if guided properly. Yet, you messed it all up. The bizarre drama you enacted to escape arrest by the Delhi Police– jumping down from a 14 ft high stage, expecting your women to form a protective ring around you and finally fleeing the pandal disguised in women’s clothing, leaving thousands of your followers to face the police wrath— was far more shocking than the vandalism and lawlessness Delhi Police or the venality of those who ordered such a crackdown. We are used to governments ordering such crackdowns. We are used to our police behaving like an army of invaders.

But we were not prepared for such undignified behavior by a yog guru, who is loved and revered by millions. This is how petty thieves and pick pockets behave. No amount of explanations will help you live down this ignominy.

Worse still your first response to this public humiliation you invited upon yourself was to announce that for your next round of agitation you will train a private militia to give a fitting response to police action. It must have thrilled the Maoists and Naxalites to hear you say that you finally understood why they have taken to the gun. But then you don’t have the gumption and courage of Maoists most of who are ready to kill and die for their mission. You back tracked your statement the moment you were faced with the Home Minister’s open threat and a hostile media reaction.

Your press conference in Delhi was no less disappointing. Your explanation that you ran away in a woman’s attire because you did not want to be hunted like a wolf by the police, made you sound even more cowardly. Firstly, there was not a chance that if you had allowed yourself to be arrested in full view of TV cameras, any physical harm would have come your way. In fact, you would have emerged a hero in public eye. More importantly, a person who is so afraid of dying ought not to assume confrontational postures vis a vis the government. The quintessential quality of a satyagrahi is not his or her ability to stay without food for a certain number of days but to be absolutely fearless in the face of repression, including prospect of death. Therefore, though yours may have been a peaceful agitation; it was far from being a satyagraha.

Till recently you were considered the advertisement for the miraculous power of yoga. By your undignified behaviour on the night of June 6 you proved to the world that the inner calm of a genuine practitioner has escaped you altogether. Therefore, this is not the time for knee jerk reactions, angry outbursts or forcing yourself on a reluctant Anna Hazare’s bandwagon by announcing that you will join his fast on August 16, 2011. Not long ago, Team Hazare wooed you to join the anti corruption movement because of your countrywide massive support base. Today, they see you as a liability.

This is time for serious introspection. Perhaps, you should start by taking a course in the “Art of Living” from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Like you, he too was an integral part of the anti corruption movement. But he was not agitated by his representatives not being included in the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill. He not only retained his calm but acted as your healer and saved you from a futile fast in hospital.

To start with, you need to seriously review the manner in which you practice and propagate yoga. Even the most elementary text or instructor, leave alone a real guru, teaches us that yog is not just physical exercise. It involves bringing body and mind in perfect union, with focus on calm breathing, the very manifestation of the life force in each of us. Pranayam is not the same as “breathing exercises” but an endeavour to gain total concentration and inner equilibrium by shutting out the noises and distractions of the outside world. As someone who made a sincere attempt to follow your yog lessons on TV, I gave up in total disappointment because you don’t allow your pupils a minute of peace. For every two minutes of yogasanas, one is subjected to 10 minutes of sermons and harangues on this or that issue.

I admire the way in which you have succeeded in convincing millions to avoid unhealthy food and dependence on allopathic system of medicines whose indiscriminate use does more harm than good. I also admire the way you lighted the spark in millions to stand up and fight corruption in governance. But your excessive demonization of the allopathic system and exaggerated claims for Yog weakens your case. When you mix yog with political or dietary sermons you take away from the seriousness of both and the lessons lose their intrinsic worth.

There is another serious flaw in your style of teaching yog. Bringing several thousand people together for a two hour class transmitted on TV clearly shows that people are expected to follow your complicated yogasanas by watching on giant videoscreens, doing what they can in their own way with very little monitoring. Yog cannot be imparted like you teach PT to school children. Yoga needs close individual attention to ensure that the person who is being taught is able to obtain the correct posture and correct breathing. Otherwise it is like any other exercise.

You have every right to nurture political ambitions or build a wealth generating ayurvedic empire with your marketing genius. But if you wish to succeed in influencing or cleansing the politics of India, you have to understand that electoral politics requires a different genius altogether. First of all you have to learn the art of team work and acknowledge your limitations in dealing with complex political and economic issues. It is na├»ve of you to assume that you single handedly have a cure for all political ills. The demand list you submitted to the Government sounds like “A Crank’s Manifesto”—with some sensible but many absolutely unviable ideas. It also diverted attention away from your main demand. Most importantly, you have to learn to live up to the honorific title of Yog guru by acquiring inner calm. Otherwise, you become a negative advertisement for Yog.

1 comment:

Hiren Dahime said...

A good letter. Why you took 2 months and 14 days to write this letter? You think a lot and then you come to this words in your letter. But Baba was not have time to take right decision.
If you know yoga better then baba, why you are not starting a better yoga sessions and become a yoga guru of all including baba?
Fighting with actual is easy then with pseudo. Understood? People ruling India are pseudo from all angles available. But not for mentally blinds.
Go Delhi,and try to meet a little commissioner, you have to wait for months for appointment. 4 top ministers are waiting for a person and you under estimate him.
I Thank for your deep debate yourself for baba to write such letter.
H M Dahime - 9428151708 (hirendahime@yahoo.com)