1st August 2010
I did not know anything about Baba Ramdev till I reached India in February earlier this year when I found him performing yoga on the TV. Soon after, I think in March, he announced a political movement called the Swabhiman Manch. My mother is a great fan of his! That tells me that he is striking a chord with many people in India.
I strongly support his call for self-respect and ethical governance. He is also attributed to have said the following (I'm taking these quotations from the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/swami.ramdev?ref=ts – which is a fan page but the quotations it cites are apparently mostly borrowed from Yog Sandesh magazine: http://divyayoga.com/Yog-Sandesh-English-june.pdf ).
1) "I can emphatically say that we are living in a fool's paradise. If a cat crosses your way or anybody sneezes we presume that some unfortunate incident will happen. If one sneezes, what is wrong in it? This is natural biological phenomena, nothing is adverse in it."
2) "I'm not against technology. I want my country's capital and talent to be used with world's latest technology. I want to make globalisation and liberalization our strength, not weakness."
This sounds promising.
However, there are reported statements which cause some concern, such as:
1) "Corruption-free India is my solemn promise. Our campaign is not a result of spontaneous provocation or anger. By our valour and heroism, we would reconstruct a corruption-free, self-dependent and grand India."
Of course, I have no issues with a corruption free India. But that doesn't require valour or heroism. It requires a deep understanding of public policy. Second, I'd be VERY concerned about any attempt to create a 'self-dependent' India. Self-reliance is good, self-sufficiency (or self-dependency?) is bad. Maybe this quotation has not been properly vetted by the Facebook group?
2) "our main aim is just not to change the system but to bring an honest change within ourselves."
I don't believe changing people is either possible or necessary in order to get wonderful outcomes. Human nature has NEVER changed for a million years and won't change just because some Baba somewhere wants it to change. He doesn't control our DNA. That has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Indeed, even his close associates will fleece him and take him for a big ride if he is not watchful! I already know of a true story where some of his associates behaved disrespectfully with people in Haridwar. When a whole political party is involved, he had better beware his own coterie – first of all! He can NEVER change them, leave alone change Indians. He can (and I can) change India but not Indians – or for that matter any other human being. We can change India through good policy, so that Indians are able to achieve their highest potential. He must therefore demonstrate SIGNIFICANT policy expertise before he attempts to launch a political movement.
It is not obvious from my very cursory reading of Baba's views whether he understands policy at all, particularly policies of freedom. Simply attracting good people (Question: does he have a system of checking who is good? This is a real problem in India today) won't create good outcomes. It could well go in the opposite direction (as happed with Nehru, a good man who ended up ruining India). Goodness is only a minimum requirement. Policy brilliance is absolutely crucial. Without policy brilliance he and his team will fail to deliver anything good for India, and may indeed take India backward.
I'm not saying he doesn't have the policy expertise, simply that I need to verify it. The other day one of his fans contacted me asking me to view some videos here. I saw one of them and found it quite questionable. Instead of viewing videos, I'd prefer to read a systematic book written by him on policy matters, like my book Breaking Free of Nehru. If someone reading this can send me his policy thoughts, I'd appreciate that.
Second, I have many questions about the organisational structure, organisational culture, and style of Swabhiman Manch. I am a great believer in internal democracy and team work. Is his movement compatible with these basic ideas? In particular, we don't want any system that collapses when one person dies.
Third, the Baba is very forthright about eliminating corruption, and bringing back money from Swiss accounts. That's excellent. I also need to know whether his organisation is as clean as it should be. In other words has his organisation EVER taken black money? Often (but not always) money given in cash is black money, i.e. undeclared income. We know that Indian temples (I'm assuming this applies to all denominations) happily take corrupt money, without vetting its source. Tirupati temple, in particular, gives special darshan to the most corrupt! The more you pay the quicker your darshan, I hear. Does that apply in the Baba's organisation even remotely? Has he consciously accepted even One Rupee of black money? I hope not, but I need to know. Whether we agree or disagree with income tax rates or income tax laws, we MUST comply with the laws and pay taxes. Not paying tax is a misdemeanour that I do not condone. I'm not saying this has even remotely happened in the case of Swabhiman Manch, but I need a clear assertion and confirmation of this fact.
These are some initial thoughts. I've offered to a friend of his that I'm happy to spare my truly precious time to personally explain to him the policy solutions that India needs – and show him around Melbourne and explain what underpins the things he sees. Nothing happens by magic. Everything requires policy expertise, particularly economic policy expertise. That offer to spend my time explaining such things to him stands.
I'm therefore interested in finding more about Baba Ramdev and, despite the scepticism about him displayed by at least a few people I know, I'm not yet ready to discard this option for reform in India without a more thorough exploration.