‘Hunger for publicity is hallmark of new swamijis’

Ramachandra Guha in the Hindustan Times:

“A hunger for publicity is the hallmark of some of the best-known spiritual leaders of contemporary India. They spend as much time on making themselves known, and praised, as on seeking the truth.

“Consider a guru in my home town, Bangalore, who, like Ramana Maharishi, is a Tamil, indeed from the same Iyer sub-caste. In other ways he is emphatically different; in his careful attention to his dress and appearance, for example, or in his not-so-careful cultivation of the rich, the powerful, and the influential.

“Or consider the holy man who, these past days and weeks, has been much in the news. Those who heard, in part or in full, Baba Ramdev’s recent day-long discourse at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, would have heard the words ‘kala dhanda’ and ‘bhrashtachaar’ (black money and corruption) as well as the words ‘dharm’ and ‘imandaari’ (morality and honesty).

“I heard them too, but I also heard words that were more telling. These were ‘mein apne media ke bhaiyyon se kehna chahta hoon’, a phrase that recurred often, perhaps half-a-dozen times an hour. It was characteristic that Ramdev sought to address the media above all (and characteristic also that his social imagination excluded the possibility of women reporters)….

“Solitude and spirituality — the link between them is intimate and indissoluble. In between satyagrahas, Gandhi spent months at a stretch in Sabarmati or Sevagram, thinking, searching, spinning. Ramana and Aurobindo did not leave their ashrams for decades on end. Yet our contemporary gurus can’t be by themselves for a single day.

“When the police forced him out of Delhi, Ramdev said he would resume his ‘satyagraha’ (sic) at his ashram in Haridwar. But within 24 hours he left Haridwar, in search of closer proximity to his brothers in the media. Externed from Delhi, Ramdev knew that many television channels were headquartered in Noida. So he would go to them, since he knew that, despite their national pretensions, these channels would not send their reporters, still less their anchors, to the benighted state of Uttarakhand. He set off for Noida but was stopped en route at Muzaffarnagar on the orders of the UP chief minister.”

Read the full article: Performance artists