Brinda Karat is suing a Trivandrum publisher who published a photo of hers together with a quotation from an interview of hers to the effect that yoga was the secret behind health and beauty ' although he published an apology the next day. I would stressfully clarify that nothing in this column purports to be a comment either on Brinda's appearance or views on yoga. The word 'star' is strenuously dissociated from the sense in which it is applied to film stars; it only refers to a rising member of the CPM leadership with bright prospects. Nor is there any intention, notwithstanding anything said below, to compare the subject to a shooting star.
In a column I wrote last January, I tackled Calcutta's problem ' that all too often, trade unionists disrupt traffic at its centre with demonstrations. My solution was that the West Bengal government should move to a hill station, and should locate itself on top of a steep hill, so that left-wing processionists would arrive breathless and exhausted. Little did I realize that I was giving ideas to the agitators. For hill stations have a paucity of roads; some of them are just settlements along a single road. So it is much easier for trade unionists to disrupt day-to-day life in a hill station than in a big city. They do not even have to march; all they have to do is to sit down in the main square, and all traffic will come to a halt.
To prove this theory, CPM held a conference on January 15 and 16 last year in Rishikesh, the point of entry to a string of holy towns, and the home of Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, which a militant trade union had helped along into bankruptcy. CPM bussed in 'students' from ten districts. Slowly, they crawled along Hardwar Road and Lakshman Jhula Road, shouting death to sundry oppressors. Then 108 delegates ' 45 from the middle class, 38 from the peasantry, 12 from the working class, and five agricultural labourers ' gathered together. Amongst those who spoke, Brinda Karat attacked the BJP for having passed the UP Reorganization Bill in 2000, which created Uttarakhand but discriminated against it, and the Congress for not having implemented the common minimum programme despite having been in power at the Centre for eight months. The 'ruling class party' ' read the Congress ' was no different from the BJP. The solution' The people of Uttarakhand must vote CPM next time. Meanwhile, whenever the situation demanded, the CPM would support people's struggles. It would become the champion of the regional aspirations of the working class and socially oppressed people. The local branch was set targets to raise membership to 15,000 workers, 15,000 women, 30,000 farm workers, 10,000 students and 15,000 other youth.
Then all was quiet till the end of winter. On April 18, CPM held its 18th congress in Delhi; there the strategy to be followed in Uttaranchal was honed. On May 5, workers in the ayurvedic pharmacy of the Divya Yog Mandir Trust in Hardwar, refused to take their salaries. Instead, they started shouting. On a cue, local CPM agitators came and joined them. Since they were not prepared to work, the workers were terminated. Others took their place; but no one has come forward yet to champion their cause.
The dismissed workers said the pharmacy used powdered human skulls and animal organs. Promptly Brinda Karat called for a high-level probe ' and also that the pharmacy should be brought under the Factories Act, so that it could not dismiss workers. In June, she went to Hardwar and shouted slogans outside the ashram with her cohorts for a day. Acharya Balkrishan, who runs the pharmacy, invited her to go and visit it, but that did not suit her purpose.
Over the next three months, CPM activists went around eight districts and plotted the next move. On September 19, Brinda Karat arrived in Kathgodam, and proceeded up the hills. In Haldwani and Gair Sen she gave press conferences, in which she said the hill people had been discriminated against in every way. In Rudrapur, Almora, Gopeshwar and Rudraprayag she marched about with protestors shouting slogans. She took delegations with long lists of complaints to the district magistrates of Almora and Chamola.
In Dehra Dun and Hardwar, she repeated noisy obstructions. Then on September 29, the party struck all over Uttarakhand; suddenly, CPM brought the state to a halt by occupying highways and road junctions in Pauri, Hardwar, Rishikesh, Lansdowne, Kotdwara, Shaktinagar, Rudrapur, Sitaganj, Haldwani, Bageshwar and Almora. That was a busy day, a successful day, an inspiring day for party leaders; they were ecstatic that they had disrupted the lives of so many.
Although Brinda Karat went repeatedly to Uttaranchal and raised mayhem, hardly anyone outside the state noticed. I certainly did not know about it. Then at the end of December she repeated the charges against the Divya Yog Mandir pharmacy ' that it used powdered human skulls and animal bones; this time she added animal fat too.
Then I got interested. I am not keen on yoga or sadhus; nor am I an early riser. So I had missed Swami Ram Dev, whose empire the pharmacy belongs to. Then I read the little piece by Paul Zakaria in the year-end issue of Tehelka, that sprightly secular magazine, saying how Ram Dev broke down Zakaria's allergy to Hindi nationalism and improved his health, and I took notice.
This man wears a mini-dhoti, and instead of a shirt, drapes himself in a kind of scarf. What struck me was his face. He has long hair, and a flowing, lopsided black beard. His left eye is a bit unruly. Altogether, he is quite unlike a dour sadhu. He is lively and human. He speaks simple, unfussy Hindi, unlike the pidgin Sanskrit the Hindutwits speak. Before the TV camera he does some dozen yogic asanas from time to time. They are not elaborate exercises; most of them are movements of the arms, the torso or the stomach. They do not interrupt his flow at all; he talks all the time. His is do-it-yourself, anytime-anywhere yoga; watching him, one can build the basic movements into one's daily life. Many people say that he has made them better, and seeing the crowds he draws, many people believe he does. So therefore do I.
Some of what he says is nonsense. He calls colas toilet water; he tells people to give up fast food. He goes on against multinationals. But he also talks a lot of common sense. If I were capable of being a devotee and a practitioner, I would find him quite a paragon.
So my conclusion is that Brinda Karat is a pracharak, bent on spreading trouble and unrest across India at the CPM's behest. Ram Dev, on the other hand, is leading people by example, and leaving them happier and healthier. She is bent on making his life difficult; he has asked her repeatedly to verify the truth herself. Between the two, I would rather watch and listen to Ram Dev and his asanas than Brinda and her speeches. If that makes me a male chauvinist, so be it.