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Mainstream, VOL LII No 51, December 13, 2014

Understanding Ram Pal Phenomenon

Monday 15 December 2014, by Ranbir Singh

Haryana has once again been in the news for the wrong reasons. The challenge to the authority of the State and judiciary by the self-styled Sant Ram Pal of Satlok Ashram of Barwala (Hisar) had created an explosive situation. It took more than a week of pressure by the huge force of the Haryana Police and Central Reserve Police and persuasion by some local leaders of the ruling party that made him surrender and help in averting an ugly situation. The administration undoubtedly demonstrated great patience and exhibited consistent perseverance to avert a showdown with the armed supporters of Ram Pal despite grave provocation from them. Some mediamen, however, are reported to have borne the brunt of the pent-up anger of some policemen. But, the leadership of the police force certainly deserves to be applauded for averting bloodshed.

It goes without saying that the print and electronic media have given wide coverage to the melodrama at Barwala. They have provided detailed information on the recoveries that the police have made during the search operations. However, the factor and forces that enabled Ram Pal to emerge as a force to be reckoned with have not been adequately explained by them. An attempt is being made in this brief write-up to give some hypothesis for understanding the same.

The rise of Ram Pal as a religious leader of substance has to be understood, in the first instance, by the strong hold of the tradition of respecting the so-called real or bogus Saints, Mahatmas and Gurus without caring to know their credentials.

Secondly, it may be attributed to the powerful appeal of what W.H. Morris Jones, the famous English political scientist, calls ‘saintly idiom’. This idiom, which implies projection by a person as an ascetic or a holy man, has been successfully used not only by the genuine Saints like Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan, but also by crooks like Ram Pal.

Thirdly, the blame for the popularity of the likes of him has to be shared squarely by the print and electronic media who provide space or slots to such persons for monitory gains for commercial interest.

Fourthly, this melody will have to be demystified as the logical result of the strangle-hold of superstition of the people of India. The TV serials and the pseudo-historians have also played an important role in strengthening it. It has facilitated the task of the self-styled God Men to create mass following for themselves.

Fifthly, the appeal of divine powers claimed by impostors like this master of Satlok Ashram also enable them to build a broad support-base of devotees for themselves.

Sixthly, the hypnotising power of their demagogy enables such charlatans to emerge as vicarious religious leaders with considerable following.

Seventhly, the success of stunts like Ram Pal has also to be attributed to their organisational skills. They not only make successful propaganda regarding their divine powers through the print and electronic media but also use a widespread network of agents for mobilising followers among the credulous peoples by promising short-cut to salvation, instant relief from diseases, liberation from penury, prospect of employment and relief from stress and strain.

Eighthly, the large-scale support for these God Men may also be attributed to the quest of a substantial number of persons to escape from the drudgery of the daily routine of hard and monotonous work. They also find in these Deras a source of free or cheap entertainment.

Ninthly, an important source of strength of such camouflaged devils is the considerable political support that they enjoy as masters of captive vote-banks.

Tenthly, it has to be perceived as a part of the national phenomenon of persistence of the culture of obscurantism that has continued to prevail despite the powerful impact of modernisation on Indian society. As a matter of fact it has been further strengthened by the Western interest through the use of information and communication technology.

Lastly, it is the logical result of the failure of the Indian state to perform its constitutional obligation of promoting scientific temper and rational outlook even after six decades of its incorporation in the fundamental duties enshrined in the Indian Constitution by the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act (1976) on the one hand and the success of reactionary forces of revivalism to further enhance the culture of dogmatic temper and irrational outlook on the other.

Be that as it may, the farce of the Ram Pal phenomenon has to be perceived as the logical result of the paradox of economic growth and social regression due to the lopsided development in which human development has remained a low priority.

Lastly, but most importantly, it must be perceived as a part of the large-scale perennial problem of the emergence, proliferation and growth of countless Ram Pals masquerading under different names not only in Haryana but in all parts of India; it will be dangerous to ignore their nefarious activities for short-term political gains. It is high time that the Indian state takes cognisance of them and initiates requisite action against their nefarious activities.

The author is a former Dean, Social Sciences, Kurukshetra University