A rupee that is equal to the dollar and the pound.
A return to India’s original vocation-based social order.
These are some of the principles of Ramdev’s “Bharat Swabhiman” strategy, according to publicity material provided by his organization.
Ramdev’s grand plan is to turn India into a “rishi bhoomi”, or land of sages, and reinstate the varna, or caste system, through the pursuit of yoga. The material also provides details about the finance, defence and foreign policies the organization espouses.
Ramdev, who shot to fame on the back of his popular yoga camps—he also made news for claims that he could cure AIDS, cancer and homosexuality through yoga—has, in recent months, tried to fill the governance and leadership vacuum that has emerged in the country. He was part of the popular anti-corruption protest led by social activist Anna Hazare, and was to start, over the past weekend, an indefinite fast to force the government to tackle corruption and bring back black money from India residing in secret accounts in European banks.
B.D. Ghosh, a senior fellow at Kolkata’s Institute of Social Sciences, says the attraction of Ramdev and Hazare lies in the issues they highlight. The middle class, he explains, is happy to have someone else addressing these issues because they can then “avoid their responsibilities”. And “TV channels also have a role” in making Hazare and Ramdev heroes, he adds.
The government, which originally looked keen to play ball with Ramdev and strike a deal with him before he began his fast, decided to get tough and his protest was brought to a halt by a midnight police raid on the Ramlila grounds late Saturday.
The government’s harsh action, which left at least one person paralyzed, has evoked criticism from several quarters. Noted political commentator and head of think tank Centre for Policy Research, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, wrote in The Indian Express that “the UPA government continues to defy all norms of rationality, morality, common sense and good judgement. These days it is difficult to make sense of what the government is thinking, if it is thinking at all. But on every measure, the midnight raid on Ramdev and his supporters was an act of wilful perversity. The government may have thought its raid was a show of authority. Instead, it made the state look like a set of thuggish weaklings: conducting raids on peaceful congregations in the middle of the night. A peaceful protest that had no indications of turning violent led to prohibitory orders for the whole of Delhi”.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to use the event to its advantage, putting more pressure on the UPA government that is already fighting to resurrect its image after a spate of corruption cases involving Congress officials and government functionaries.
Meanwhile, Ramdev, who tried to escape from the Ramlila grounds and then leave Delhi dressed as a woman, was forcibly taken to Haridwar, where his ashram is based; he has since tried to revive his campaign and launched a broadside at the government.
The government is reported to have asked investigative agencies to look into the financials and functioning of the Bharat Swabhiman trust, run by Ramdev, which is estimated to be worth around Rs 1,100 crore, and several firms run by his key aides, one of whom resurfaced mysteriously on Tuesday after being missing since Saturday night’s events. At a meeting with reporters, he avoided questions about his whereabouts and instead stressed on the key tenets of Ramdev’s philosophy.
Ramdev emphasizes absolute purity, Indianness and organizational discipline. He wants the death sentence for corruption, rape, terrorism, adulteration and pollution. Voting should be made compulsory, all direct and indirect taxes should be abolished, except for a 2% transaction tax, and there should be a ban on cow slaughter, he says. And he wants Muslims to avoid beef, “at least in India”.
The “Bharat Swabhiman” strategy outlined by Ramdev mirrors that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent, in some ways. The RSS also promotes indigenous products, primarily through Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, its economic wing, which promotes indigenous industries and culture. The RSS also demands a ban on cow slaughter and lists its objectives as organizing Indian society, protecting dharma and character building.
The Ramdev organization’s yoga instructors are urged to educate followers about “duties towards the nation” every day for 5-10 minutes during yoga training. One of the booklets issued by his organization explains his views on foreign policy, national security, social justice, corruption, electoral reforms, voting, reservation, sin and noble deeds among others. “India’s political, social, economic and spiritual degradation have led to the weakening of the ancient system of chaturvanashram (the four divisions of the social order on the basis of professions)... Only yoga culture can revive that ancient tradition,” it says.
One booklet, Sanyukt Neeti Nirdeshika, explains how his organization is to be structured. “By the end of 2011, Bharat Swabhiman trust will be functional in all the villages of the country,” he declares.
Other booklets give guidance about what products can be used and what should not, essentially along the lines of the swadeshi movement—use Indian, shun foreign. For instance, shaving products that can be used include Park Avenue, VI-John and Godrej—all home-grown brands —while those that shouldn’t be used are Old Spice, Palmolive and Gillette.
Ramdev, who travels by private jet, asks followers not to use vehicles made by Honda, Hyundai, Chevrolet and Mercedes. Besides that, among swadeshi products, preference should be given to those made by Patanjali, Ramdev’s own organization.
The faithful are also asked to desist from chocolates and biscuits that contain arsenic, and urged instead to have dry fruits.
Nidhi Misra contributed to this story.