Weeding Out Rampal-like Fake Gurus: What India and PM Modi Should Do

This article is about a serious contemplation on the rampant darkness, ignorance and poverty in one of the world’s fastest growing economies that is also home to one of the largest collections of illiterate, disease-ridden or mentally bankrupt people anywhere in the world.

By Sanjay Gupta

Sanjay Gupta

Sanjay Gupta

The recent episode of a self-styled godman holding thousands of “devotees” hostage in his sprawling ashram to avoid arrest in a contempt of court case has once again left a lot of people agape with wonder mixed with disgust and disbelief.

The drama unfolded over several days in the north Indian town of Barwala in the state of Haryana and left five women and a child dead and scores of people injured. The long arm of law (too long for anyone’s comfort I would say) is said to have finally caught up with the belligerent Baba Rampal.

Details of the entire episode are available everywhere on the web, including here, here and here.

But this article is not about those details—ghastly, horrendous and shameful as they are.

This article is about a serious contemplation on the rampant darkness, ignorance and poverty in one of the world’s fastest growing economies that is also home to one of the largest collections of illiterate, disease-ridden or mentally bankrupt people anywhere in the world.

[ Read: How “Make in India” Will Break in India ]

It is about a mass of humanity that shares a common glorious past but which, at the moment, is as far removed from glory as the Milky Way is from the remotest black hole in the universe.

It is about a burgeoning elite class of people with money and access to power who are so intoxicated with their own sense of power that any idea of retribution or justice makes them laugh the rambunctious laughter of Ravana: only there seems to be no Ram in today’s India, only scamsters of the ilk of Rampal.

It is about a media that kowtows to the high and mighty rather than pursue its true calling: which is to investigate and bring to light instances of corruption and social injustices on a constant basis (and not on the whims and sudden revelations of vested interests), among other things.

And finally, it is about the poor, uneducated, often hapless people of the country who are misled by the politicians, fake godmen, spurious gurus or anyone with an ax to grind: again and again and again…

It is highly possible—as it has been made possible by the politics-business-religion-nexus countless times before—that the Rampal incident would be forgotten in a few days of hysterical TV coverage, full-page paper reports and the usual politics-inspired chest-thumping, clench-fisting and mud-slinging.

It is almost a cinch that the media would lose interest and start groping for other stories that can keep people (and advertisers) “hooked.”

And—alas—it is more than a certainty that a few years or perhaps months down the line, another Rampal-like godman would pop up somewhere in the vast topography of the country.

“Why do I say these things will be certain to happen again?” you ask?

Because India is not a (largely) homogeneous, educated, developed society but a weird mish-mash of abject poverty (anywhere from 30 crore* to 70 crore poor people depending on whose stats you take), gross illiteracy (28 crore people, largest in the world as per UNESCO) and towering wealth (1.8 lakh dollar millionaires in India as per a Credit Suisse report—including a $1 billion tower-monster-of-a-home for a certain guy I choose not to name).

*Conversion: 1 crore = 100 lakh = 10 million

So, where does Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, fit into the picture?

Before I go on with the rest of the piece, let me make some honest admissions: I have some grudging admiration for this guy whom the hundreds of millions voted to power as the Prime Minister of India.

And my admiration has nothing to do with his designer beard or outfits but everything to do with a re-ignition of hope for the youth of the country who see him as an icon and role model.

It has also to do with the disgust with the stockpiles of corruption cases, scams and indecisiveness that the previous, Congress-led government and its putative PM engendered in their 10 years of misrule.

So, where Modi gets into the picture, or rather, should get into the picture (even if it’s a movie not of his own making) is a series of quick measures he and his battery of ministers and bureaucrats are required to take, in my opinion:

  • Get a list of all the ashrams currently occupied all over the country.
  • Start the arduous but necessary process of examining the land allocations.
  • Look for trouble spots or signs that would betray the black sheep from the flock (most of them, but NOT ALL, in my own spiritual and personal experience, would turn out to be black).
  • Arrange for a systematic way to interview and record the experiences, motivations and involvement of a fairly representative sample of their followers (with the vast army of central and state employees, this should be doable).
  • Set the process rolling on laying down the guidelines for media on how godmen or gurus who love to get in front of cameras for giving sermons, fortune tellers who tell (and make) fortunes, etc., should be covered or “involved” in / with media. (Again, in my own spiritual experience, though most of the real gurus, rishis and munis have long disappeared from the soil of India, the few remaining ones, who are true to their own spiritual quest as well as to those of their devotees, would rather sit contentedly with a small group of people in harmony than blare out their decrees or show off their “scriptural knowledge” to a bloated, dumbstruck audience.
  • Closely examine the source of funding of ashrams and where and how the money is spent.

These steps (and the impact they will create) may not root out the problem of fake godmen appearing and reappearing completely, but I think we need to make a start somewhere.

While much of what I have written above portrays India and most of its people negatively, the country also has a large number of educated, right-thinking (and I don’t mean right-wing only!) people who can contribute not just ideas but time and money to cleaning up India spiritually as well.

We may need many more Swachh Bharat Abhiyans (Clean India Campaigns)—where sweeping is done not with a broom in hand but with a high beam of light shone upon the darkness of the mind.

Sanjay Gupta (pictured above) is an editorial consultant and freelance writer based in Delhi. The views expressed in this article are his own. He can be reached at thinksanjay@gmail.com

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