Babas and Politicians: The Unholy Nexus Threatening Democracy

The dark side of devotion; media, politics and the baba phenomenon

The death of over 130 devotees in a stampede at a congregation at Hathras in Uttar Pradesh has shocked the nation but why does it surprise us? In the last three decades, this country has seen an enormous growth of Babas as devotees throng to them in search of miraculous powers. The codification of religion and development of organised cadres in these congregations is the biggest threat to us as a society and democracy but then these religious gurus now have been legitimised by the party in power and vice versa. They have enormous power and action is only taken on their misdeeds when states feel they have become a political liability or when the courts are determined to act against them.

The sad part today is the glorification of these babas through Darbari media and social media which has helped create a ‘bright halo’ around to ensure that they run their fiefdom uninterruptedly. Today, they define your personality. When everything is reduced to the number of your followers and likes then don’t expect any rational debate on why such congregations are allowed when they can’t be managed properly.

The government has initiated an inquiry but we all know what is the outcome of this. Find a few scapegoats while nothing happens to the main culprit. The reason is a close nexus between media politicians and these Babas who are not spiritual but only work as political agents. The administration knows these things hence in any event the issue of permission and required paperwork is merely a formality.

The shameful part is that the so-called Baba just disappeared from the scene and so far not a single statement has been heard but then as a society we never learn any lesson and have easily forgotten how, a decade back,  a billionaire baba wore a woman’s kurta with dupatta and ran away from Ramleela Maidan in Delhi.

The growth of organised religious congregations and using them for political purposes are not merely law and order problems but also a big threat to democracy. Don’t we know how the number of deras has grown in Punjab and how difficult it is for the administration to act when they have political patronage? The case of Gurmeet Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda is an example of powerful patronage.

It is now clearly visible that an individual is reduced to no value if he or she has no followers whether in real life or reel life which is the web world. Your rights and wrongs are determined by your power on the ‘ground’ or the ‘web’.

It is clear as a society, we will continue to look forward to the messiah and each one inside us suffers from a megalomania of being so. The result is we don’t have time to interact and debate decently so that we gain wisdom and knowledge.

Why should we complain when such a situation has been normalised and most of us are writing in the abstract in our world looking for ‘Bhakts’ and not for a fellow partner with whom we can discuss and debate politely and with respect?

The thing is nobody will learn anything because after a few noises here and there, things will move on and Babas will give us gyan about our life and future what to eat, how to live and what our future is. The problem is that despite knowing they don’t know anything, we continue to follow them in search of a miracle.

Meanwhile, we can only mourn the death of innocent people in the hope that people will realise that they are just cannon fodder and there is no miracle or power in these babas or priests otherwise we would not have any accidents and deaths in and around religious places or these congregation. The fact is that neither the babas nor gods can save us when in crisis. For that, we need responsible institutions including hospitals, and schools and a better lifestyle.  In the absence of our basic needs, we can’t do anything. Babas only help you to blame yourself and not ask any questions from the political establishment. Look at the organised madness. Now gods do have fever and doctors are called out. They eat and rest. Who has reduced us to this level where our children are weeping to see God’s suffering. The children should have enjoyed critical thinking, exploring nature, enjoying science and reading powerful literature. We are heading towards a huge cultural crisis.

We need an enlightened India and that is possible through following and understanding the path shown by Buddha, Nanaka, Kabir, Raidas, Tukaram, Chokhamela and not by the luxurious Babas. The sooner we get out of this the better for society.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The author is an activist and is currently working on Impact of Ganga and its tributaries in the Himalayas and the plains of India

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