BREAKING NEWS INTO PIECES

World Culture Festival: Babas and the sheep, State beep beep

The god scam continues and the government not only watches but also watches over.

 |  BREAKING NEWS INTO PIECES  |  5-minute read |   11-03-2016
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So the baba with two salutations has had his way. A day after saying he would rather go to jail than pay Rs 5 crore, the baba's lawyers turned tame and claimed that being a charitable organisation, Art of Living couldn't afford Rs 5 crore in a week. So they would begin with a modest sum of Rs 25 lakh and pay up the rest in four weeks. It's a different matter that the cost of this "World Culture Festival" is estimated to be over Rs 100 crore. The event will be over in three days, and the National Green Tribunal will be left wondering how to collect the fine.

The fine in itself is frivolous. There is very little "environment" left in the Yamuna in Delhi to be destroyed. It's an effluent-carrying drain, not a river, that passes through Delhi. In spite of crores of rupees drained in cleaning it. We have permanent structures called the Akshardham Temple and Commonwealth Games Village, both sprawling, on the same floodplains. In spite of a hue and cry. What harm can non-permanent structures do that Delhi hasn't already inflicted on this so-called holy river?

The problem with the event is that it is not the cultural festival it advertises itself to be. It's a congregation of a cult in the name of cultural festival, meant to further the interests of the cult. The scale only adds to the clout of the baba who presides over this Art of Living cult. It encourages other charlatans to organise pompous parties where innocent people are made to believe they have a spiritual leader.

Why on earth would one need a spiritual leader? Even sheep don't need shepherds. The shepherd needs the sheep. So do the self-declared shepherds of spurious spirituality. The modern-day messiahs, however, make the followers believe that the latter need a guide "to realise your worth". Some even claim to teach the art of self-actualisation. If you need help in self-actualisation, it's not self-actualisation, it is actualisation. But leave that aside for the moment.

modiataol-embed_031116061856.jpg Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at World Culture Festival. 

The beauty of polytheism is that it lets people lead their lives the way they want. Spiritual leadership is the hallmark of monotheistic faiths, the ones with prophets. The modern day babas of the Hindu shade have appropriated the role of religious leaders in a belief system, which itself is an oxymoron, that doesn't believe in it. There are prophets in polytheism. They know that centuries of conditioning have got people into believing that they are worthless, unless someone with divine powers can show them the path.

Babas mix modern mumbo into ancient jumbo patent that as their USP. Sri Sri's USP is breathing exercise. As if people need a white-robe, flowing-beard guy to know that breathing is important. Ramdev's USP is Yoga, an exercise regime handed down to people for generations since Patanjali codified it. Sri Sri runs an Art of Living empire, making money off the gullible and returning part of it in charity and using rest to organise these mega events for advertising. He loves the spotlight. He took a planeful of journalists to Iraq to bring peace to ISIS. All he did was meet a Druze spiritual leader.

There is nothing wrong in teaching people breathing exercises and making money. Nothing wrong in making Ayurvedic medicines and selling them to those who use them. But it's never the business that it is. It's always shrouded in the sainthood of the spiritual leader. In Ramdev's case, saffron; and in Sri Sri's, white.

The point is not the colour of their robes. The massive ijtemas that maulvis of various Islamic sects hold and the holy soul-harvesting hoopla at evangelical gatherings are worse at sickness level. Tahir ul-Qadri of the Islamabad container fame will be here at Ramlila Grounds misleading people about the purpose of life. What else do they teach? What can they teach that people do not already know? Their aim is to exploit the beliefs of the unsuspecting to make more money in the name of the lord. It's true, even if only partially, that they take more from the rich and sometimes give part of it to welfare. That in no way justifies their methods of mass murder of logic and scientific temperament. They perpetuate superstitions coated in spiritual discourse.

modiataol-embed2_031116061911.jpg Army personnel doing construction work for World Culture Festival. 

They want people to surrender their souls (an entirely imagined concept) to some invisible force and their money (always real, never imagined) to their respective organisations so that they can spread the word further to collect more money. It's a ponzi scheme even Sahara would be proud of. The difference is Subroto Roy Sahara is in jail and the babas are out.  

The god scam continues and the state not only watches but often participates in it. The prime minister is attending Sri Sri's fest, though the President of India allowed better sense to prevail. The President of Zimbabwe has opted out. It must bewilder us that the revolutionary-turned-dictator Robert Mugabe follows Sri Sri's Art of Living. However, if you run through the list of followers of babas of various leanings, you will not be surprised at all. Such lists are where the dubious meet the doofus to sustain their deity's delusions of divinity.

The fest will be over in three days. His new followers will be mesmerised by the breathing they never breathed. Sri Sri will leave with a larger, brighter halo for a newer, bigger stage. Beaten black and blue, the Yamuna floodplain that is holding up the current one will breathe again. The green tribunal, now red with anger, will be green with envy. The word of the baba commands such following that the law of the land bends before his holiness.

P.S. The original AOL was founded by Steve Case, Marc Serif and Jim Kimsey. Now AOL doesn't mean America Online, in India. They wouldn't definitely LOL at this brand appropriation.

Writer

Kamlesh Singh Kamlesh Singh @kamleshksingh

Journalism student. Ed honcho at the India Today Group Mediaplex. God's Loyal Opposition. Useful Warning: Tweets may hurt religious sentiments.

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