'Cong, BJP f....d the country; for change we need Baba Ramdev'

The massive crowds in the Ramlila grounds are a testimony to the Baba's organisational prowess, and not his ability to forge a powerful anti-corruption movement. But when you move among the believers, there's almost complete faith in the Baba and his ability to deliver.

hidden June 04, 2011 14:58:55 IST
'Cong, BJP f....d the country; for change we need Baba Ramdev'

By Sandip Roy and Lakshmi Chaudhry

"Congress, BJP... all these b********ds have f****d our country over. Ek Baba Ramdev hai, akela Gandhi jaisa," says Sunil, a 30-something company driver from Bihar. To him, Baba represents a ray of hope after years of watching a corrupt political system plunder his nation from the sidelines.  "All politicians loot," he says, "whether Lalu or Sheila Dixit or Mayawati. For real change, we need Baba."

The political theatre unfolding on the Ramlila grounds in Delhi this morning is a spectacle created mostly for the believers. Like Rita Saha, who has travelled all the way from Kolkata as part of a 100-strong group, the vast majority are card-carrying members of Ramdev's yoga camps for at least four to five years. They literally have their membership cards hanging from their neck.

Cong BJP fd the country for change we need Baba Ramdev

Baba Ramdev's followers go through newspapers at the Ramlila ground in New Delhi on Saturday. Sandip Roy/Firstpost

Unlike the Hazare sit-in at Jantar Mantar, there is little that is spontaneous or organic about the Ramdev show. Tens of thousands of volunteers, shipped in by the Patanjali Yog Samiti and Bharat Swabhiman Trust, file in to the grounds in orderly lines, setting up camp with their individual groups. The effect is that of a mass picnic at a giant railway station – without a morsel of food.

Devila Thakkar, a gray-haired follower from Surat, performs for the TV cameras, happy to wave a scarf or do an impromptu dance. She's suffered from arthritis from the age of 25, and, in recent years, a lifetime of medicines had closed her vocal chords. Pranayama has allowed her to walk again, she says, averring "I will do anything for Baba."

The hope is that the man who can cure the body – of the most chronic and fatal of diseases, be it cancer or diabetes – can also heal the nation. On stage, the parallel most often drawn is between bhrashtachar and balatkar, corruption and rape. The Baba is demanding the death sentence for both, a view echoed by his followers. As Asha Kapadia explains the connection, "Rape destroys man and tan of individual. Corruption destroys man and tan of our desh."

"I want to feel nishchint (unworried) when my daughter goes out. Now I feel tense. So much tension for parents. Why not capital punishment for those who would hurt my girl? Or my country in that way?" asks Mithu Roy, who has been a Ramdev devotee for the past five years. But then demurs, adding, "This is not a fight about capital punishment. This is a fight to change the system from the under-the-table system. Baba is a krantikari (revolutionary). He is hurting no one but his own health."

The Ramdev show in Delhi is less a testament of his ability to create a broad-based movement than his organisational prowess in mobilising his base. Ramdev today is preaching to the converted who—for the most part—are not the earnest academics, educated bureaucrats, or urban professionals who flocked to Anna Hazare's fast in Jantar Mantar. This is the other India, which has spent hours lining up outside, dressed in white dhoti-kurtas and salwar-kameezes, scarves wrapped around their necks and heads. Most don't speak English fluently, and owe their loyalties entirely to Baba.

Kiran Bhardwaj, member of the Lion's Club, is one of the few attendees who went to the Hazare protest in April, and helped organise a neighbourhood protest in Noida. She finds Ramdev more "multifaceted". For those who did join the Hazare sit-in, it was a first step toward activism. Ramdev offers greater hope of a true people's andolan (protest).

"These are the masses, [Hazare] was more about educated classes," says her friend Minnie Mehta, but thinks both groups will eventually end up in the same place.

Naresh Kumar, an advocate at the Delhi High Court, says, "Look around! You can see the difference yourself." He has little patience for those who question Ramdev or his motives. "Anyone who wittingly or unwittingly opposes this campaign is mired in bhrashtachar (corruption). I say Shahrukh is a monkey who has taught our children to dance, and Digvijaya needs psychiatric help," he declares, "Hindustan was enslaved for so long because of one Jaichand. Now we have thousands of Jaichands."

Despite the revolutionary rhetoric on- and off-stage, most of those who have gathered at the Ramlile grounds are here for Ramdev and not to fight corruption per se. Anna Hazare attracted people who did not know who he was, but identified with his issue. Here the person and the issue are one and the same. As Godhuli Roy puts it, "We trust him. He asked us to come, so we did."

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