Monday, June 13, 2011

On godmen and marketing

Baba Ramdev blew it. He had (of course still has) a huge fan following; thousands of people follow him, yearn to be in his presence, listen to his sermons, bask in his shadow, or see him on TV. He with the most famous stomach in India then went and did something stupid. He decided to take on the politicians.


He declared that black money is bad, and needs to be brought back into the country. So far so good. Motherhood statements like this are excellent and no one dares counter them. Vague demands of "bringing back" black money, which has no fixed place of residence and cannot be identified, are excellent feel-good topics that make the conscience glow.  There is an innate need in all of us to feel morally superior – this is mostly satisfied by making grandiose uplifting statements of the moralistic or religious kind, and basking in the resultant glow.


He with the huge following thought he could do a Anna Hazare. What he forgot is that Anna is a social worker, not a godman (or yoga guru as the case may be); has a huge following but it is not being leveraged for money or fame; has not built a huge business empire which is vulnerable; and has a moral standing that the Baba, even with all his millions shouting his fervent praises, cannot match.


He perhaps thought he has reached the stature of a Satya Sai Baba or a Sri Sri. He has a long way to go before he gets anywhere close. He does not attract the devotion of his followers the way the other two do. Also, Ramdev's communication is too direct, too controversial, and too worldly – he is not even close in spiritual messaging to these other two gentlemen, one of whom is of course now deceased.


His meteoric rise (counted from an already high place which he occupied) and inglorious fall, all happened within a couple of weeks. He had the ministers of the UPA government fawning on him, visiting him at the airport – him who was a common citizen come to play a charade of protest – and the whole nation starting with the PM and Madam his leader, focused on him alone. He made some promises to the bigwigs he was negotiating with, then went back on his word. He decided to up the stakes in spite of his private assurances to them to the contrary. That pissed them off. It is dangerous to piss off such powerful people. They sent their armies in, obviously. He then ran away wearing women's clothes! That was the most stupid thing to have done – he should have stood there and demanded to get arrested. Whether he got arrested or got hit with a lathi, his stature as counted in martyrdom points, would have gone up several notches.

Then Baba Flat Stomach, who seems to be very ignorant on how to deal with the media, even though he owes his rise to them, went and said something to the effect that he would raise an army! What he said was bad enough, but the way it was twisted by his enemies-in-waiting made it sound diabolical. What he said sounded more like rhetoric, but people in high places with media attention on them need to be very careful of what they say. Which is why when any politician or great leader decides to speak "extempore", their close advisors tremble in fear. They the enemies, made sure that they denounced this as a plot by a deranged maniac to destabilize the nation by encouraging an armed uprising.


The Baba who should have stuck to his asanas, announced at the same time that he would go on a hunger strike. Self mortification as a ploy works only when the opponent is receptive, has a sense of guilt, has a lot to lose in case the mortifier ends up in the mortuary, and has not been recently very pissed off with the person in question. In short, given the sequence of recent events, the timing was all wrong.


He went on a fast. No one listened. He was shifted to hospital and reports emerged of his health deteriorating. No one heard. Amidst all this, no one was in any doubt that he would not die of hunger.  When an Anna Hazare declares a fast unto death, you cringe when you think about it because you know that the probability of his continuing the fast unto death or near to it in any case, is high. In the Baba's case, he had too many worldly attachments  including his ever-expanding business empire for him to lose it all by dying. That would be a clear waste, and the public saw it. So no one took his "unto death" seriously.  On the contrary, the government decided that this was a good time to take some resources away from investigating the 2G and Commonwealth Games Scams, and divert them to investigating the Baba's burgeoning business empire. They are not even subtle nowadays when they use the CBI and allied agencies to meet their own ends – no one thinks Kanimozhi would be in jail today if the DMK had won in Tamil Nadu – but that is another story, another track.


His advisors had to do some serious background work to prevail upon another guru, "his senior", to prevail upon the by now hungry Baba to break his fast. Sri Sri landed up and admonished his junior. The precise admonishments are not known but I guess it would have been something like "Don't be stupid – learn from me. Eat well, sleep well, give a lot of good advice, breathe deeply, but never paint yourself in a corner. Since you have just managed to do that, you stupid oaf, swallow your pride and some orange juice, and break your fast. Then come to my ashram in Bangalore, be my guest for a month, and I will teach you the art of Darshan (how to motivate followers), Sudarshan (as in Kriya) and Politician (how to make them run in circles around you)." And so it happened.  The Baba has retreated, broken his fast, and hopefully will go back to doing Nauli or Uddiyana Bandha for a while.



Anonymous said...

This is unconvincing. Please can I ask:

1.Whats wrong in a Yoga Guru commenting on corruption? Is this something that is an exclusive right of the dishonest only?

2.Why do you call Ramdvji's patanjali trust, which has achieved a modest turnover by selling Ayurvedic medicies, an empire? If 1100 makes an empire then what would you say about Dabur, Zandu which are much bigger in turnover?
Also even the government doesnt say that the trust is doing anything illegal then why should we critise it at all?

Finally, what Baba Ramdev has been able to do with a mere 1100 crore turnover in terms of health benefits could not be achived by spending lakhs of crores of rupees by governments.

3.What have you done till now to eradicate corruption?

4. I wish that you also had written something about the way the peaceful protest was handled- FYI, almost all the media and intellectuals have criticised it.

Swami Ramdev's campaign may not have been successful for now, but he has been able to awaken people about the issue of corruption and black money which affects every caste, religion, region and class in the country and we need to appreciate and support the underlying sentiment of his campaign rather than ridiculing him based on lies.

Rajesh said...

Dinesh, Nicely worded article and i fully agree with your views.

I think Ramdev clearly had a hidden agenda (of making it small/big in politics) that he has build a decent business empire (the origin of funds, property, etc are debatable).. he definately needs to be politically well placed to defend questions on his business in future.

As you said it was a stupid act which boomeranged and the agencies are after his empire and how he built it.

Poor Stupid Ramdev....