Fly­ing be­low the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion radar, the yoga guru runs a sur­ro­gate Vote for Modi cam­paign

India Today - - BATTLE FOR 2014 - By Uday Mahurkar and Ku­mar An­shu­man

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?



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