By Sambit Dash*
Okay, this holds well for ‘maa-dom’ too’; so don’t worry about biased menfolk. Godmen and godwomen (how about godperson for a gender-neutral description, by the way?) have walked the earth, albeit covered with petals, since time immemorial in India. Their religious erudition, crowd pulling capacity, multitude of followers and not to miss, the aura glowing far and wide make them special. So what if a few get caught or get shamed for accumulating wealth illegally, acquiring land, committing rape, attempting murder, duping, cheating and what not. Yesterday, there was a certain Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari or Chandraswamy, today it’s a Radhe Maa nationally and Sarathi Baba locally. Tomorrow it will be someone else’s turn. The Baba industry never goes sick nor does it ever run out of fresh ways of leading people up the spiritual garden path. But the recipe seldom changes.
Let us discover the recipe of this ‘Baba’ and ‘Mata’ producing industry. The key ingredients (I request the readers to add their ‘namak swaadanusaar’) are:
Awakening: How does an average man with a sub average level of education with or without a criminal antecedent become so famous suddenly? Awakening, stupid. One fine day God himself has to come and tell the person that s/he has been chosen to spread His message! This can happen in various circumstances like discovering a Shivling suddenly, talking philosophical post bouts of amnesia, or simply by starting to live a hermit-like life. Choose the color of your robe according to the faith please. Like the entry in a performance wows the audience, the bang that the awakening carries will wow the ‘bhakts’ (ah, not the ‘bhakt’ that you are now accustomed with)
Followers: What is a leader without followers? And what is a Baba without followers? Once one has arrived on the Baba/Mata scene, one has to have followers. Every start-up (using the word as it has captured everyone’s imagination well) needs investment; whether through venture capital, crowd sourcing or whatever. In Baba-business, it occurs by duping the first few by promising them the moon; most of the times simply telling people about their impending good/bad times. Free food, a place to stay, ganja or other opiates, and the lure of earning without doing a job will always have takers in the society.
Scholastics: Now to expand the business, to achieve bigger objectives, one cannot just sell the moon to a handful of people. You have to instill the fear of god! But you can’t just say God will eventually let you die. One has to do it in a scholastic manner, exhibiting the erudition, or theatrics in its absence. Pravachan, elaborate puja, animated sermons, all of it with a lot of fanfare and TV coverage (w\What shall the scores of devotional channels do otherwise?) helps expand base. ‘What do you think, all these people attending are fools?’ was the response of a colleague when I told him a certain ‘bapu’ was such a fraud. So, now you know how people get added to list of followers.
Land: Baba-dom is not very different from kingdom. But you thought the real king was God himself. Okay, whatever. All the Baba and Mata need land to establish their ashram (read fiefdom). Whether given by wealthy ardent followers – who, needless to say, rinse their sins and tax-owed money with generous contributions to such worthy causes – or by politicians (this shall be the next ingredient), set-ups with dining hall, puja hall, darshan hall, sleeping hall (often the wrong kind) are invariably found. While we are talking about land, let’s not forget the apartments owned by the disciples-of-God.
Politicians: You already know this ingredient all too well. So what has politician to do with godmen and godwomen? If Margaret Thatcher met a Chandraswamy and asked about her electoral chances once upon a time, what are other mortals in the shape of today’s politicians? First things first, the dots join only too well. Baba, followers, politicians, vote-bank. The mathematics is simple. Political parties have been gaining from fueling religious leaders as they then get access to their followers, who on the diktat of their ‘guru’ will vote en masse. ‘Baba-dom’ is one domain where political patronage cuts across party lines. The Baba/Mata’s are very smart, like an Ambani or a Mittal – and make sure they are in the good books of all political parties so that business never gets affected by a change of regime.
Glamour: An ingredient that is sprinkled on top to make the dish look beautiful. If a Subhash Ghai is seen hugging Radhe Maa or Sarathi Baba producing Odia movies (the crappy kinds that come out anyway), it is all part of the spectacle. These artistes in real life value artistes in reel life. It adds to the authenticity, builds the brand image and of course opens doors to a world dazzling with glamour, parties, money, and fame. If a ‘Baba’ can produce, direct, write, shoot, act (I am missing a few more roles, I am sure), distribute a movie, it speaks volumes of where the new age ‘baba’ is heading.
Production: Manufacturing is the industry which boosts the economy like no other. All talk and no products makes Baba only an averagely rich Baba. The ingredient that shall take the Baba business to dizzying heights in making and selling goods. It all starts with that innocuous book or booklet priced at a paltry rate. Then the bandana in various colors, the ‘kada’, the locket, the showpiece, the framed photograph, the stickered souvenir, the vibhuti box, maybe the Chyavanprash later. Manufacturing units can lead to building a bigger empire.
In a country where religion largely based on fear is part of every tiny bit in everyday life; where religious texts are nearly unfathomable and not understood by most; where there is no culture of seeing a counselor when facing emotional trouble; where a group or sect is a prey in sight for the political class; these godmen will crop up time and again. Time and again they will be exposed, sent to jail and their legacy squandered or carried on. Perhaps their numbers will reduce with growing awareness of the masses. Till then conmen will gather these ingredients and prepare a potion which will mask the common sense for the blinded-by-faith people.
(Caricature Courtesy: story2share.in)
*Sambit Dash is a senior grade lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at Melaka Manipal Medical College, Manipal University by profession and a blogger by inclination.