No economic freedom in Ramdev's Patanjali

It sells a concept couched in the deceptive language of upholding Swadeshi.

 |  5-minute read |   15-08-2016
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Every August 15, the country suddenly turns into a nation. A feeling of unity and oneness is on lavish display in almost every walk of life. Schools and colleges get ready for manufactured patriotism, cultural programmes of our glorious past take over our television sets and a wave of national optimism about the future becomes an all pervasive affair.

The naysayers or critics are anyway a miniscule minority to create any rupture in our march toward greatness. One parivar though seems to be critical of our idea of freedom itself. No, it is not the much maligned Marxists, but an emerging, evocative voice of the Patanjali parivar, spearheaded by Baba Ramdev.

babs_081516050700.jpg In the 21st century, Baba Ramdev gives a hilarious spin to the very idea of economic freedom in his new advertisements.

The first thing that catches your attention in the newspapers these days is the page-long advertisement of Amazon or Flipkart offering humungous discounts.

The other, more glaring thing that our focus shifts to, are Baba Ramdev's Patanjali advertisements trying to desperately win over prospective buyers for their "home-made, original, unadulterated" items.

One particular ad that you often see is the one that makes an overt and direct claim to make India "economically independent". The larger idea being that Indians did achieve political freedom, but economic freedom remains a distant dream. In fact, one of the first proponents of this idea was BR Ambedkar. However, he saw it, most importantly, in conjunction with the other equally vital component of "social freedom".

In the 21st century, Baba Ramdev gives a hilarious spin to the very idea of economic freedom in his new advertisements.

"Bring home Patanjali products and get India economic freedom" is featured in big letters with the words "Patanjali" and "freedom" in bold. To make it more dramatic, the ad quotes the freedom fighter Ramprasad Bismil, ludicrously out of context, to drive home its point of severing India's dependence from the profit sucking multinational companies and making India great again.

(The choice of words is drastically similar to the intensely problematic campaign slogan of Donald Trump.)

"Mera ho man Swadeshi, Mera ho tan Swadeshi, mar javo toh bhi mera hove kafan swadeshi" is purportedly invoked to make people realise how we should take pride and work towards making India a self-reliant Bharat!

Another usual culprit, the East India Company, is castigated for having looted Bharat and being a precursor to the modern, money minting MNCs. This is followed up by a strong urge to pay heed to the sacrifices of our freedom fighters by religiously working to realise "their" Swadeshi goal.

Firstly, Ramdev Baba still seems to be living in the "idea" of the glorious past and not in the actual present. A modern, rapidly urbanising India can never think of being self-reliant. In fact, knowingly or unknowingly, all our day-to-day activities are shaped by certain elements of globalisation.

The interconnectedness of the Indian life has been a historical fact. Right from the Indus Valley civilisation, the much glorified Bharat was never a place which thrived on its own resources. Dependency has always been the norm rather than the exception. Patanjali products create a false belief of past greatness.

Secondly, the idea of giving up on sundry items coming from outside is a nightmarish thought to an average, middle class, globalised human being.

From our electronic gadgets to the food we eat, everything has been connected to the tools of globalisation and has a distinct historical memory in terms of origin. If the place was the source of early civilisations, it equally owes a huge debt to the outside world for making our lives what they are today.

With the Patanjali logic, we need to start wearing Khadi, start eating shuddh desi products (if there are any) and discard shampoos, toothpastes, soaps et al as they continue to colonise our minds.

But on the other hand, to get colonised by hyper-nationalised sloganeering is tantamount to strengthening the bonds of our nation! Mr Modi of all people should be a worried man as it is a direct confrontation with his dream scheme "Make in India" and the insistence on relying on the incoming FDI as the panacea for all evils.

MNCs plough out the profits to their already developed states. There is no gainsaying the fact that they indeed do so. However, the Patanjali Parivar is no group of altruistic workers puffing up the coffers of the government for the social benefits of the marginalised. Neither are other domestic business groups where the obvious motive is to earn profit.

The Patanjali idea is no more than a neoliberal concept couched in the deceptive language of upholding Swadeshi. It is a garish brand, not a social service. The simple idea is, an average Indian is a no holds barred consumer. More money entails more demand and thereby leads to a craving for multiple varieties of a single product.

With all the problems that accompany this neoliberal tilt, our lifestyles have embraced an irretrievable consuming habit that is on the constant look out to try out new things.

The Patanjali idea of self-sufficiency, and the reinforcing of swadeshi is a gross misfit in our inevitable transition toward being a part of interconnected communities, trade, economies, lifestyles and ideas.

Having willingly embraced the economic reforms in 1991, the floodgates were opened precisely for sustaining the economic freedom which Baba Ramdev is alluding to. The difference being, his idea of a pro-business world was an evanescent period in the 1980s whose logical culmination was the pro-private tilt toward the end of the same decade.

What Baba Ramdev's philosophy does is it even makes a case for a return to that period, one that is now widely critiqued as a "crisis of governability". (Kohli )

In the name of economic freedom, asking Indians to internalise a strict, nativist form of life and domestic companies to ascertain their freedom by ploughing out profits for themselves - tinged with a regressive clamouring for patriotism - is a deeply flawed premise.

Patanjali might be making huge dividends, but it is a non-starter as far as the idea of economic freedom is concerned.

Writer

Suraj Kumar Thube Suraj Kumar Thube

The writer has done his MA in political science with a special interest in Indian democracy and Indian political thought. He also likes listening to Hindustani Classical music and watching football.

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