RAMDEV CHANTS MODI MANTRA
Flying below the Election Commission radar, the yoga guru runs a surrogate Vote for Modi campaign
Calicut, Kerala, February 17, 10 a.m.: The crowd, which cuts across Kerala’s complex caste matrix, waits quietly for a session of Soma yoga. But as soon as the event’s biggest draw, Baba Ramdev, takes the microphone, it turns into a cheering mass, as the yoga guru goes on to exhort them with an “elect Modi” speech in chaste Hindi, buttressed by some halting English to get his mes- sage across to the predominantly nonHindi speaking audience. The plunder of the country began at Calicut when Vasco da Gama set foot here, he tells the crowd. “It should have stopped in 1947 but continues to this day,” he adds, with potshots at the NehruGandhi family. “Install Narendra Modi in Delhi and revive the nation’s lost glory,” he thunders, in a state that has never ever elected a BJP MLA or MP.
Blending spiritual platitudes and hardboiled political rhetoric, the yoga guru is on a roll. He is building the poll battle as Dharmayudha 2014, and claims his ‘Ghar Ghar Pahunche Ramdev’ campaign, to make Modi the prime minister, is set to gain traction across the country. The push will see Ramdev trudging through 100 Lok Sabha constituencies covering all major states before poll day. “I’ll visit more than 500 houses a day. My volunteers in 600 districts will go to 500 homes each,” he says.
Not unlike Modi himself, Ramdev’s speeches drip enough vitriol to sway crowds. His term for the Nehru-Gandhi family is “lootera khandaan (family of plunderers)”; as opposed to “maha nayak, rashtra purush, vikas purush (and even chai bechnewala)” while describing Modi. He also comes up with evocative one-liners like “Is desh ka faqir hi wazir banega aur taqdeer badlega (A mendicant will become PM and change this nation’s fortunes)”, while the Third Front figures in his speeches as “Rajkiya aur arthik aarajakta faylanewale jamaat (a group that wants to spread political and economic anarchy)”. He is also
given to sweeping aside the Aam Aadmi Party ( AAP): “Jhadoo ka ayushya do mahine se jyada nahin hota (The life of a broom is not more than two months)”, while Arvind Kejriwal gets equated to an unguided missile that can “land the nation anywhere as it does not have a control mechanism”.
The effort has been packaged as an exclusive Ramdev show, not a BJP- sponsored one. No BJP worker is visible at any of the venues. “I’ve decided not to use BJP’S platform, that’s why you see no party flag. It is to be a dialogue between me and my people,” he maintains. He gets his highs too. As he addresses a crowd in Delhi’s Sultanpuri on March 1, Ramdev does not hide his glee when he spots a local Muslim follower, Haji Zaheer Khan, coming up to him to say he would vote for Ramdev’s sake, and not for any party. “I have a strong network in more than 600,000 villages,” claims Ramdev, adding that their dedication is “more than enough to make Modi the prime minister”.
Ramdev’s official link-up with BJP began in March last year when he met its President Rajnath Singh in Delhi. Singh offered to support Ramdev’s vision and requested him to campaign for the party. On April 26, Ramdev invited Modi to his Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar. The Baba had put his weight behind the ‘Modi for PM’ bandwagon long before BJP had announced the Gujarat Chief Minister as its man for the top job. “India needs a strong, decisive, stable and experienced government that only Modi can provide,” he says, adding that this is also why he would not want to throw in his lot with Kejriwal’s AAP: “There is no time for experiments. AAP has failed in Delhi. I don’t see much fire left in it.”
The standard tool for his door-todoor campaign is the leaflet: “Voter hai bhagya vidhata”. It details how a vote can change the plight of the country. Black money is at the core of his campaign rhetoric, and Ramdev takes pains to describe how the money Modi will bring back from tax havens abroad will change the lives of the poor. “Once that money is here, your kuccha homes will all be cemented and painted,” he tells Sultanpuri’s slum-dwellers. The sprightly Ramdev’s spiritual persona helps. “I had never dreamt that a saint like him would come to my home,” says Chiranji Lal Meena in Delhi’s Mangolpuri. “If he has come here to get support for Modi, we won’t disappoint him,” the 65-year-old social worker adds, watching the convoy move on.
Ramdev is already busy criss-crossing the country, leveraging local metaphors and imagery to connect in each state. A week after his Calicut show, he was in Anand, Gujarat, for a Yoga Shibir, where his punchline included Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, sure to stir emotions locally: “You missed a chance to install the Sardar in Delhi because
Ramdev’s link-up with BJP began in March last year, when he met its President Rajnath Singh in Delhi and Singh offered to support Ramdev’s vision.
some devious Congressmen misled Mahatma Gandhi on behalf of Nehru. India had to pay a big price for it. Nehru came to power and the country got divided in three parts. Had Sardar been the PM, perhaps we’d even have Afghanistan with us,” he went on.
A couple of days later, on March 1 in Harinagar, Delhi, a former Congress worker, Santlal, 70, shows Ramdev his photo with Indira Gandhi, but adds: “Aap jo chahte ho iss baar wahi hoga, desh ki pukar hain hoga (Things will happen according to your wish this time. This is the nation’s call).”
Ramdev’s media manager Surendra Tijarawala claims it is not just a ‘vote Modi’ campaign but one “that will change India’s destiny”. Ramdev’s supporters expect to help NDA win eight to 10 seats in Odisha, five to six each in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, five to seven in Assam and three each in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, “over and above the seats BJP can win on its own”.
The logistics involved are huge. His aides claim teams of 500 workers per district have begun campaigning on the ground. They are armed with five million flags, and an equal number of badges and scarves embossed with the logo Bharat Swabhimaan, a term the swami has made synonymous with the installation of Modi as prime minister. The projections are, if each worker touches 500 homes, the campaign will cover 250,000 families in every district. In January this year, over 500 district headquarter offices of the Patanjali Yog Samiti were beefed up with computers and colour printers. Around 1,000 motorbikes and 300 cars have been provided to its district offices, with a provision of double the number of motorbikes over the next few days for tehsil-level networking. This is besides the thousands of cars and two-wheelers owned by his volun- teers that are also being used.
If so much money being spent looks like an invitation for trouble from the Election Commission ( EC), safeguards are in place. Though the entire campaign is reportedly being conducted in coordination with Rajnath Singh and Modi, no campaign material bears Modi’s name, and is worded in a way that while it clearly roots for BJP’S PM candidate, it doesn’t mention him anywhere. With the EC’S code of conduct now in effect, his workers have stopped taking Modi’s name, using surrogates instead that the poll watchdog can’t object to. This had earlier helped him to escape unscathed when Congress petitioned EC to include Ramdev’s campaign spend in BJP’S official poll expenses during the recent Assembly polls.
Chanakya-like, Ramdev has vowed to stay away from his organisation’s headquarters until the polls are over, “and the mission is successful”. Can he help script a new Arthashastra?
NARENDRAMODI WITH BABARAMDEVATHIS PATANJALI YOGPEETH IN HARIDWAR
RAMDEVCAMPAIGNS IN SULTANPURI, DELHI