Modi should rein in Sri Sri, Ramdev

The abuse-and-accuse strategy, which has delivered rich dividends to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, has found favor with several men, including (supposedly) men of god. The Narendra Modi regime’s favorite gurus, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, are among the public figures who believe that the appropriate response to an accusation is another accusation and not defence. Offence, after all, is the best form of defence.

So, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art Of Living (AOL) has dismissed the report by an expert committee set up by the National Green Tribunal. The report was on the destruction of the Yamuna floodplain during its jamboree a few months ago. AOL called the panel’s findings unscientific and biased. “There is no analysis, nor any in-depth investigation… nor any test report to support these conclusions. These are merely the opinions of the expert committee and do not depict the true state of the World Culture Festival ground,” it said.

This is despite the fact that the expert committee was headed by Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources Shashi Shekhar and comprised senior scientists from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute—Professors C.R. Babu, A.K. Gosain, and Brij Gopal—and two more experts. One may disagree with the findings of a report by experts but to term it without any analysis, in-depth investigation, etc., smacks of self-righteousness and arrogance.

Self-righteousness is the result of an unscientific mindset, which is not surprising given that that AOL is a cult, not a rational organization. Arrogance emanates from the AOL boss Ravi Shankar’s proximity with the ruling dispensation. This was the reason that when, a few months ago, the NGT imposed a Rs 5-crore find on it for, Ravi Shankar had refused to pay the penalty.

In his scheme of things, the NGT is wrong, the government of India doesn’t know what it is doing, the country’s foremost environment experts are incompetent—and only what AOL says is correct.

Ramdev’s case, too, is not very different. The Department of Consumer Affairs received 33 complaints against the advertisements of his Patanjali Ayurved Limited between April 2015 and July 2016. In a written response to a question in Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore said that 17 out of 21 advertisements complained against were found to be in violation of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) code for self-regulation. That was not all. “Six product packaging communications (out of eight complained against) were considered to be in violation of ASCI code for self-regulation of advertising content,” the Minister said in his written reply. Further, two TV advertisements out of four were considered to be in violations of ASCI code for self-regulation of advertising content, the minister said in his reply.

But did this sober the pugnacious yoga guru? Not at all—in fact, his pugnacity has only increased after these revelations. Instead of making amends, he has done a Kejriwal: along with his favorite pastime, bashing multinational corporations (MNCs), he has also started badgering the ASCI. “The ASCI’s actions are nothing but a collective conspiracy by some multinational companies, who has a great deal of influence on ASCI,” Ramdev said.

In short, everybody, from MNCs to the ASCI (and also perhaps the government, which quoted the ASCI), is conspiring against Patanjali.

To combat these conspiracies, Ramdev has engaged major FM radio networks to promote his company and malign MNCs. His constant refrain is: “Patanjali apnaiye, desh ko arthic aazadi dilaiye.”

Perhaps, the yoga guru is unaware of the recent developments: the Modi government, whom he supports, is keen on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and rolling out red carpet for MNCs. This is 2016, not the 1990s when the Bharatiya Janata Party made noises against FDI (though at that time too it wanted MNCs to invest in India).

Prime Minister Modi did the right thing to take a tough line against Hindutva cowboys recently. It is time he also asked religious leaders to follow the rule of law and to stop making wild accusation against MNCs. For, if unbridled, these people will not only vitiate the business environment and deter foreign investment but also smear the reputation of India. It would start looking a failed, lawless state rather than what it actually is—an ancient civilization embracing modernity.