Some two and a half years back I had told an aunt of mine that Baba Ramdev was getting ready to enter politics. My aunt, who recently retired after nearly four decades of teaching in the Kendriya Vidyalaya system of schools, wouldn’t agree with me. “He just wants us to be healthy,” was her reply.
I had been following Baba Ramdev’s early morning yoga classes on television regularly for almost six months in a bid to control my ever expanding waistline. The aasanas that Baba showed over that period remained more or less the same. But the commentary that accompanied those aasanas had gradually become more and more political.
In that context, I am not surprised at Baba’s decision to take the Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government head on and ask his supporters not to vote for the Congress in the coming elections.
Baba Ramdev may not form his own party in the days to come. He may not even contest any elections but by asking people not to vote for the Congress he has more or less signaled his entry into politics.
So the question that arises now is that will he succeed at what he is trying to do or will he just be a flash in the pan and disappear from the limelight in a couple of years?
Babas and religious gurus have always been an essential part of the Indian political system. Dhirendra Bramhachari was known to be close to Indira Gandhi. Chandraswami was known to be close to PV Narsimha Rao.
Long time Gandhi family loyalist Arjun Singh was known to be close to the Mauni Baba of Ujjain. Mauni Baba even took credit for Arjun Singh surviving a massive heart attack in 1989.
As Rashid Kidwai writes in 24 Akbar Road – A Short History Behind the Fall and the Rise of the Congress “The doctors at Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal had almost given up on him( Arjun Singh) when a call from Rajiv Gandhi ensured a timely airlift to Delhi’s Escort Heart Institute. His spiritual guru, Mauni Baba of Ujjain, took credit for the miracle. The guru, who had taken a vow of silence, reached Delhi and shut himself off to conduct various yagnas for his health. As Union Communications Minister, Singh had given the guru two telephone connections. The act promoted a Hindi daily to run the headline, ‘Jab Baba bolte nahin, to do telephone kyun?’
Like Singh, the various politicians took care of their respective gurus. Indira Gandhi ensured that Dhirendra Bramhachari had a weekly show on Doordarshan to promote the benefits of yoga. Several politicians were known to be close to the Satya Sai Baba as well. His trust being a publically charitable trust did not pay any income tax.
So babas and religious gurus have always been close to Indian politicians and politics. They have been the backroom boys who have rarely come out in the open to take on the government of the day head on.
But there are always exceptions that prove the rule. One such person who did this rather successfully for a brief period was Sadhvi Rithambara. Her fiery speeches in the early 1990s were very fairly popular across the length and breadth of North India and Bihar. I remember listening to one of her banned tapes before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was full of expletives and exhorted the cause of a Ram Mandir being built at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
As Haima Deshpande writes in the latest edition of the Open “By the early 1990s, the Sadhvi was scandalising secular India with her rabble-rousing along a campaign trail to replace Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid with a Ram Mandir. At first, her anti-Muslim tirades were full of expletives, exhorting Hindus to reclaim what she said was rightfully theirs. After a brush with the law, she toned herself down, but her message was roughly the same. While the entry of Parsis to India was like sugar sweetening milk, she would say, that of Muslims was like lemon curdling the country (delivered with a certain inflexion in Hindi, that verb could sound rather crude).” The Sadhvi is now known as Didi Maa and runs a home for destitute women and abandoned children which was set up in 2002, Deshpande points out.
What these examples tell us is that Babas and religious gurus have never operated in the openly in the open sesame of Indian politics. And when they have they have not survived for a very long period of time.
At a broader level people who have been successful in other walks of life have rarely been able to transform themselves into career politicians. When these people have tried to enter politics they have either been unsuccessful or have retreated back very quickly.
Let’s take the case of Russi Modi, the man who once played the piano along with Albert Einstein, when the great physicist was playing the violin. Modi was the Chairman and Managing Director of the Jamshedpur based Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO, now known as Tata Steel). After retiring from TISCO, Modi fought the Lok Sabha elections from Jamshedpur and lost.
Amitabh Bachchan won the Lok Sabha elections from Allahabad in 1984 defeating H N Bahuguna. He resigned three years later. Dev Anand unsuccessfully tried to form a political party in the late 1980s. Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra were also a one term Lok Sabha members. Hema Malini has achieved some success in politics but she is used more by the BJP to attract crowds rather than practice serious politics. The same stands true for Smriti Irani of the Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi fame.
Deepika Chikalia, the actress who played the role of Sita in Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana, was a one time member of Lok Sabha from Baroda. So was Nitish Bhardwaj who played Krishna in BR Chopra’s Mahabharat, from Jamshedpur.
The only state where film celebrities have successfully made it into politics and remained there is Tamil Nadu. Andhra Pradesh has the isolated example of NT Rama Rao who was successful at politics as well as being the biggest superstar of Telgu cinema. But more recently when the reigning superstar of Telgu cinema, Chiranjeevi, tried to follow NTR, he was unsuccessful. He had to finally merge his Praja Rajyam party rather ironically with the Congress.
Imran Khan Niazi, the biggest sports icon that our next door neighbour Pakistan ever produced formed the Tehreek-e-Insaf party in 1996. When Imran Khan started making speeches before the 1997 elections, his rallies got huge crowds. But the party failed to win a single seat in the election, despite the fact that Imran Khan contested from nine different seats. He lost in each one of them. But to Khan’s credit he still hasn’t given up.In India cricketers like Manoj Prabhakar and Chetan Sharma have unsuccessfully tried to contest elections.
The broader point is that people from other walks of life haven’t been able to successfully enter politics if we leave out the odd filmstar. There are several reasons for the same. Their expertise does not lie in politics and lies somewhere else, something Amitabh Bachchan found out very quickly. Politics also requires a lot of patience and money. This is something that everybody doesn’t have.
Also some of these successful people come with stories attached with them. Ramdev’s story was “practicing yoga can cure any disease”. Those who have seen his yoga DVDs will recall the line “Karte raho, cancer ka rog bhi theek hoga“. This story helped him build a huge yoga empire with an annual turnover of over Rs 1000 crore. The story was working well, until Ramdev decided to diversify, and enter politics.
As marketing guru Seth Godin writes in All Marketers Are Liars: “Great stories happen fast. They engage the consumer the moment the story clicks into place. First impressions are more powerful than we give them credit for.”
So Ramdev’s success now clearly depends on the perception that he is able to form in the minds of the people of this country. Will they continue to look at him as a yoga guru who is just dabbling in some politics? Or will they look at him as a serious politician whose views deserve to be heard and acted on? Also will Baba Ramdev want to continue investing time and energy in the hurly-burly world of politics? That time will tell.
But what about the all the people that Baba Ramdev has been able to attract, you might ask me? Crowds as Imran Khan found out are not always a reflection of whether an individual will be successful in politics. And history clearly is not on Ramdev’s side.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on August 15,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/india/will-ramdev-succeed-in-politics-history-isnt-on-his-side-418952.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected] )
One of the things about having grown up in erstwhile Bihar was that I ended up with the habit of having paan now and then. For brief periods of time it would turn into an addiction and I needed my paan right after lunch.
Nearly 10 years back, while working in Hyderabad my paan-eating habit was at its peak. I went out for my afternoon paan right after a heavy lunch. On one such occasion, while I was waiting for the paanwallah to make my daily fix, someone came and stood next to me. In chaste Hyderabadi Hindi he asked the paanwallah – “kya miyan unne rakhe kya?”
The paanwallah, who till then was sitting cross-legged, quietly got down and suddenly put his hand next to his crotch. For a moment I was too shocked at the scene that was playing out in front of me. The paanwallah then quietly handed over something wrapped in polythene and was handed over a Rs 10 note in exchange.
Once the exchange was over I asked the paanwallah “kya diya usko?”
“Gutka!” the paanwallah replied.
In March 2002, the state of Andhra Pradesh had banned the sale of gutka. But such was the addiction of the people that gutka never really stopped selling in the state, and the system simply went underground. You could buy gutka packets at almost any paan shop in Hyderabad.
The only thing that had changed was that the price had more than doubled. Everybody made more money in the process. The police turned a blind eye to this menace because they had bigger criminals to catch. And at the end of the day how many paanwallahs could they have put in jail? Also, while I have no concrete proof for this, I am sure that the local hawaldars must have been kept happy by passing them a share of the increased profits. The gutka manufactures pleaded ignorance by saying that the packets were being smuggled into Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh from the other neighbouring states where the sales weren’t banned.
So everybody made more money in the process. The gutka consumer lost out because he had to pay a higher price for his addiction, but then he really didn’t mind. The government lost out on the taxes that would have come from official gutka sales.
The government’s reasoning in banning the sale of gutka was simple. The decision was made in the interest of public health. The loss in tax revenue for the government was thus secondary. Using similar logic the government of Maharashtra recently banned the sale of gutka in the state. While at face-level this might seem like the “right” thing to do, it doesn’t really work.
Gutka is also banned in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Maharasthra has also banned pan masala, becoming the first state in India to do so.
Bans to stop people from consuming products that are injurious to their health have never really worked in this country. Manufacture, sale or consumption of alcohol has been banned in Gujarat since 1960. But as anyone who has lived in Gujarat long enough will tell you, sourcing any kind of alcoholic drink isn’t a problem. You just need to know the right person who can home-deliver it.
The charismatic NT Rama Rao implemented prohibition in 1994 after an anti-liquor movement spearheaded by women grew across the state. The men never really stopped drinking. Liquor continued to be available and was simply smuggled into the state from the neighbouring states.
N Chandrababu Naidu, son-in-law of NTR, became the Chief Minister in 1997. He revoked prohibition on the pretext that it was “not successful or feasible because of the leakages within the state and from across the borders”.
Haryana implemented prohibition in mid-1996 and lost out on Rs 1,200 crore of tax revenue during the period. The drinkers simply moved to drinking in neighbouring Delhi and Punjab during the period.
When states ban consumption of alcohol, or gutka for that matter, they are following what the Directive Principles of State Policy envisaged when the constitution of India was made. Article 47 of the Directive Principles of State Policy states, “The state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the use, except for medicinal purposes, of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
But such bans have never really worked. The government doesn’t have the administrative machinery required to implement such bans. Also, leakages from neighbouring states ensures that the supply of the banned good never really stops, be it gutka, pan masala or alcohol for that matter. In fact, with more profits to be made the risk of smuggling becomes increasingly lucrative.
Given these reasons, the ban on gutka and pan masala in Maharashtra will have no real impact accept moving their sales underground. The consumer addicted to it will readily pay more for the product. The government will lose out on the tax revenue.
The only way to ensure that the ban works is to have a nationwide ban and systematically ensure that no gutka-pan masala is produced or sold in this country. But that again is easier said than done. A lot of state governments may not be ready to lose out on the revenue that the sales of these products brings in. Moreover, what is to stop its smuggling from Nepal or Bangladesh? It also raises the question: why stop at banning gutka-pan masala and alcohol. What about banning cigarettes and bidis as well?
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 13,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-gutka-ban-in-maharashtra-wont-work-376475.html)
Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected]