Swami Nigamanand’s death is not a tragedy, it is a travesty

"Ramdev turned his stir against black money into a media event and finally emerged bigger than the cause while Nigamanand fought on silently. With his death, the issue of illegal quarrying along river Ganga is set for a quiet burial."

A sudden slap on the face is often hard to take.

That’s why the death of an environmental activist on a hunger-strike protesting illegal stone quarrying and rampant mining in the state of Uttarakhand comes as a shocker. It is a rude whack on our faces because when Baba Ramdev was being force-fed to break his fast over the corruption issue in full media glare, a few hundred metres away Swami Nigamanand lay unnoticed, counting his last days.

A ‘Save the Ganga’ crusader, Nigamanand had been on fast since February 19. Both Ramdev and Nigamanand were admitted at the Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences in Dehradun. That’s where the similarities ended. One hogged the limelight having shamelessly made his so-called protest a vulgar media event, the other fought on silently. If actions speak louder than words, then Nigamanand’s struggle ought to be screaming sense into us.

But it’s doubtful that it would. Not without reason, though.

image from India Times

After all, the ire of the masses is today directly only against politicians and financial corruption. If Anna Hazare and his brigade of anti-corruption activists have succeeded in doing anything, it has been to build up a hysteria that is a nothing short of a mindless abhorrence of politicians. They have been pathologically building up hatred against politicians, as if everyone else in society is a saint. The masses have been swept away, and the media, by and large, has failed to notice the flaws in this agitation.

The irony of Ramdev and Nigamanand sharing the same ICU for two days is not only about the media noticing one event and turning a blind eye to another, it is also about both means and ends. When you make your protest a media event, somewhere down the line you lose sight of the cause itself. Ramdev’s fast soon became an issue of Ramdev himself; that of Nigamanand will flow down the polluted Ganga.

There are more reasons why Nigamanand’s sacrifice will be soon forgotten. It has already become a political issue. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had minced no words in condemning the brutal crackdown on Ramdev’s programme in Delhi, is now at the receiving end of the Congress stick in Uttarakhand. Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has blamed the state government for its reluctance to take action against illegal mining. The Congress in Uttarakhand is even planning protests across the state. Individual crusades always make political capital for others.

No one will dispute the fact that the cause that Ramdev had picked up is genuine. But for someone who has emerged bigger than his cause itself, the yoga guru’s heart has sadly not yet bled for Nigamanand. Rumours abound that one reason why Ramdev did not join the issue with Nigamanand is that the same mining mafioso who the latter was fighting, were incidentally funding Ramdev’s agenda. Those, of course, are only allegations as of now. Yet, there can also be no smoke without fire.

It would be interesting to see if Nigamanand’s battle is carried forward by anyone. For all you know, cynicism aside, the war probably ended with him. The short public memory will live up to its name.

To wake up from this stupor, we will probably need another slap. Maybe, a harder one at that.