Why do small minded, god men (read con men) like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baba Ramdev and others, do so well in India? Why are they able to command such a large following? We can’t really blame it on lack of education or poverty, as large numbers of their supporters/followers are educated and well off.
Much of it is due to the fact that what passes off as education in India is actually only barely literacy in many cases and in others, a preparation towards a career at best. Which means our ‘education’ does not really promote critical thinking or rationality and reason. If at all it does, such thinking is limited to being used purely in the workplace and not in personal areas of one’s life.
In addition, the natural propensity to superstition and the willingness to believe in every bit of nonsense, if it is spoken by someone in authority, creates a potent mix of qualities just waiting to be exploited. India has been steeped in what we call spirituality for centuries. But much of it has been actually a euphemism for exactly that aforementioned superstition. And instead of questioning it, most Indians actually take pride in it. We take pride in our capability to attract spiritual tourism too. Why then would we be in a hurry to give up these trappings?
In fact those who do try to bring about change, are resisted tooth and nail. And that too is putting it very, very mildly. Three rationalists Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi who were working tirelessly to educate people, paid with their lives. Clearly there are vested interests here that take this very seriously indeed and are willing to go to any lengths should anyone tread on their toes.
There’s also so much of guilt floating around, where the offloading of some wealth in exchange for an easy conscience seems like a peachy exchange. Soothing words and believable mantras, for peace in a stressed-out life, make too tempting an offer to resist.
The combination of the quality of our education, the cultural propensity to easily accept when it comes from someone in authority and the credulity that has built up in the population as a result makes a potent mix. Small wonder then, that these god men / spiritual leaders operate with such impunity commanding huge wealth and authority in no time at all. It’s ironic also that the contradiction between what they preach (which is often simple living) conflicts so glaringly with the ostentation in their own lives. But our gullible population is only too happy to be told pleasing stories about how their lives will improve if only they did such and such, and also drop a bunch of notes into the container on their way out.
Not only do these charlatans influence people at the individual level but they have steadily intruded into politics too the same now being a ubiquitous reality. It is an open secret too that there is an underbelly of exploitation that is a clear thread running through most (if not all) of these organizations. And, yes, they become full fledged commercial enterprises sooner or later belying all their protestations of simple living which seems to be only for their followers.
Distressingly none of this seems to wake up those who are held so firmly in their thrall. It seems to be par for the course, so normal and routine has all of this become for Indians. What then can break this nexus? Unless Indian citizens wake up to the evils of the same, there is very little hope of breaking its hold on the Indian polity. The only hope really is a real education. But the lack of the same among the people, serves so many people in high places that there is a clear conflict of interest to bring it about. Will those of us who are able to see these connections, be capable of overcoming this lacuna and the resistance to change, and do something about it? That is the vital question.