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What's wrong with Ramdev being a businessman?

Last updated on: June 7, 2011 15:21 IST

What's wrong with Ramdev being a businessman?

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Shonalee Biswas


The government after laying the red carpet for Baba Ramdev is now on a warpath with him. Accusations are flying left, right and centre.

Digvijay Singh, the general secretary of the Congress party, called Ramdev more of a businessman than a 'sanyasi'.

"Even to teach yoga, he charges Rs 50,000 from those who sit in the front seats, Rs 30,000 for the back seat and Rs 1,000 for the last seat. What else is this?" Singh asked.

I am no supporter of Baba Ramdev, but Singh's argument clearly does not work. Baba Ramdev teaches yoga and organises yoga camps all across India and the world. Anyone can attend these camps as long as he is willing to pay the price that Ramdev charges.

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Image: Swami Ramdev.

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There is a price list for it, as Singh pointed out. People pay the money and attend these camps. The point is that no one is forcing people to attend these camps and pay the high price that Baba Ramdev charges.

They are doing it out of their own volition because they feel what Ramdev teaches in these camps is beneficial for them.

There is no scientific basis to prove this, but if people think in a particular way, they think in a particular way, and they cannot be stopped from doing that. 

So if Baba Ramdev is a businessman, what's wrong with that?

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Photographs: Reuters
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Also, Singh should remember that Ramdev is not the first case in India of a baba/guru who has turned into a businessman. Some of them after their death have left assets running into thousands of crores (billions). There were scores of such babas before Ramdev and there will be scores after him.

A lot of such babas have directly/indirectly played a part in politics at the national level as well. And that's what Baba Ramdev also seems to be keen to do.

So prima facie there is nothing wrong with that. He has earned his money the honest way, by introducing and training people to do yoga, and now it's up to him how he chooses to use that money.

The government and the Congress party cannot have an issue with that, as long as he has paid the required taxes on his earnings.

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Photographs: Reuters
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The second accusation against Ramdev has been that he is trying to use the yoga platform that he has built for himself to get into politics. Again what's wrong with that?

Are businessmen, or sanyasis for that matter, not allowed to enter politics in India? If that was the case most of our current politicians shouldn't be in politics in the first place.

Some of the biggest politicians in Maharashtra run educational institutions and make big money from it in the process and pay no tax on it. There are sugar barons also who are into politics. A lot of such politicians belong to the Congress party.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a party, with which the Congress has an alliance at the state as well as the Centre levels, has involvement in several businesses, including media and an airline.

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Photographs: Reuters
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In fact, to become a member of the Lok Sabha, a person should be a citizen of India, not less than 25 years of age and not hold a job with the government of India.

Ramdev fulfils the three conditions. So if he wants to enter electoral politics, so be it.

And that's where the Congress party should be fighting him. If he has the support of the people he has as much right to become a member of the Lok Sabha as Rahul Gandhi, the perpetual prince in waiting.

If the people of the country feel that Ramdev should stick to yoga, they will show that through their votes as and when Ramdev decides to enter electoral politics.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Ramdev's fast was supposed to force the government to do something about the thousands of crores of money stashed in the Swiss banks abroad.

An estimate made by Prof R Vaidyanathan, who teaches at IIM Bangalore, suggests that around $1.4 trillion of Indian money is stashed in banks abroad.

While, the estimate may not be totally correct, there is no denying the fact that a lot of Indian money has been stashed abroad over the years, primarily in Swiss banks that don't bother asking questions about where the money has come from.

While recovering this money may not be as simple as sitting on a fast and forcing the government to get the money back, the country does need an official policy on this.

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Photographs: Reuters
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The only explanation for the lack of will on the government's part to do anything about this entire issue is the fact that the Congress party has been in power for more than fifty years since Independence. 

So are we to believe that a lot of this money stashed abroad is the ill-gotten gains of politicians, many of whom could belong to the Congress?

Also every new politician has to differentiate himself from others who are already present in the market. This is probably Ramdev's way of differentiating himself. His war cry is the fight against corruption. Fight against the ill-gotten wealth of Indian politicians and businessmen that has been stashed away abroad, over the years.

Whether he is successful in his crusade remains to be seen. And just because he has made some money from teaching yoga, the Congress party and the government cannot hold that against him.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Of course, the treatment meted out to Baba Ramdev has the opposition politicians clapping in glee. They have been given one more issue to nail down the government.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has come out in full force in support of Ramdev. The RSS's interest in Ramdev is understandable, given the lack of any superstar leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP has also jumped onto the protest bandwagon, with leaders like L K Advani urging the President to call a special session of Parliament so that the government could be 'compelled' to explain its action against Ramdev.

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"Democracy is under threat from a vicious government that seems intent on silencing the voice of the people and crushing the upsurge against corruption. We, therefore, humbly plead that you use the powers vested in your office to summon a special session of Parliament in the soonest possible time," Advani said.

The way Congress is treating the entire issue leads me to believe that they see Ramdev and the BJP entering into some sort of electoral arrangement, in the years to come.

Whether that happens or not is a different matter, but in the interim things are hotting up for sure. . .

The author can be contacted on shonalee.biswas@gmail.com


Image: BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj, L K Advani and Nitin Gadkari.
Photographs: Reuters
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