A tale of two major Arya Samajists

Swami Agnivesh remained true to the Arya Samaj’s anti-obscurantism spirit and thus was hated by RSS, but Baba Ramdev while claiming to be Arya Samajist embraced the medievalist Hindutva ideology

Ravi Shanker Kapoor |

Baba Ramdev and Swamy Agnivesh

Baba Ramdev and Swamy Agnivesh

Contemporary India has witnessed two major Arya Samajists, Swami Agnivesh and Baba Ramdev, but the lives of the two took very different trajectories. While the former had become a non-entity when he died at the ripe age of 80 last year, the latter is going from strength to strength despite his improprieties and intemperate remarks.

Agnivesh, who came into prominence in the 1980s for his stellar work to emancipate bonded laborers, continued to rail against superstitions and mindless rituals till the end of his life—a ‘sin’ for which Narendra Modi’s New India never forgave him. In 2018—that is, two years before his death—he was thrashed allegedly by the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jharkhand. He was consistently and viciously denounced by saffron trolls.

Ramdev, on the other hand, not only fights against allopathy or modern medicine; he fights against modernity itself. He has become the byword for superstition and obscurantism; this has helped him become rich and famous—and powerful. So powerful that when a few months ago he launched his spurious Covid drug called Coronil, a couple of Union cabinet ministers graced the occasion. In any civilized democracy such a high-profile launch would have been impossible, for it is a well-acknowledged fact that no cure for Covid has been found so far.

Such abominations take place because Hindu society seems to have turned its back on reason, refinement, and discernment. Post-liberalization prosperity—especially among the middle classes—has resulted in crass commercialism, a spurt in religiosity and rituals, and the mushrooming of babas. For instance, there are middle class localities which have shops selling global, expensive brands and several temples (many of them built on encroached lands) but no bookstores.

In such a socio-cultural milieu, with philistinism and benightedness rampant, a person like Agnivesh, who had the cheek to call the idol at Amarnath the result of a natural phenomenon in this day and age, becomes irrelevant. Concomitantly, a misinformation-peddling evangelist like Ramdev strikes gold.

We must acknowledge the fact that Ramdev and his ilk thrive because of the tryst that Hindu society made with obscurantism, philistinism, and crassness. The exhibitions of sanctimony, sentimentalism, and excessive national pride we see all around are the direct and indirect consequences of that tryst.

Ramdev claims to be an Arya Samajist. A four-year-old PTI story talked about a book The Baba Ramdev Phenomenon: From Moksha to Market by Kaushik Deka (https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/in-other-news/300417/saraswatis-writings-inspired-ramdev-quit-school-fled-home-to-join-gurukul.html). “This book [Satyarth Prakash by Swami Dayanand Saraswati] was a revelation to me. It awakened my inner-self, gave me a sense of purpose in life. It introduced me to the wisdom of our ancestors. I wanted to follow the path shown by the ancient sages,” Ramdev was quoted in the book. But he promotes a lot of things the Arya Samaj was opposed to.

Swami Dayanand, founder of Arya Samaj in 1875, was the greatest religious and social reformer of north India. The Arya Samaj movement was revolutionary in intent and impact; it reinvigorated Hindu society in the undivided Punjab—that is, the vast swathe of land from Delhi to Peshawar.

Arya Samajists fought every social ill plaguing Hindu society, from casteism and oppression of women to illiteracy, ignorance, superstition, and ever-proliferating rituals.

Unfortunately, by the middle of the 20th century, the Arya Samaj movement had lost steam. Some people continue the good work till date, but the movement long ceased to be a major reforming force. Worse, its leading lights more and more became inclined towards Hindutva, the medievalist ideology promoted by the RSS. Ramdev is the biggest and most conspicuous Arya Samajist who has collaborated with the RSS. Hence his importance and prominence.

Agnivesh, on the other hand, never compromised on the Arya Samaj’s anti-idolatry and anti-superstition agenda. I find his views on Maoists and Kashmir objectionable, but then all of us err. He, however, didn’t err on the essentials of the Arya Samaj; he continued his crusade against benightedness. Hence the RSS’ hatred for him.

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