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Ramdev's disingenuous defenders

Ranjona BanerjiDisingenuous: someone who pretends to know less than they do about something. And that is the best way I can describe those who are defending yoga teacher Baba Ramdev’s distasteful remarks about Rahul Gandhi going to the huts of Dalits for ‘honeymoon’ and fun.

Apparently, as I have been told repeatedly by Ramdev’s fans and followers on social media, that honeymoon has many meanings, chief amongst which is a time of goodwill and enthusiasm before embarking on a new job.

And indeed, it is true. Honeymoon is often used like that, figuratively. It is also used idiomatically to mean the early days of an alliance, a business partnership and so on.

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev said that Rahul Gandhi visits houses of Dalits for “honeymoon and picnic”, sparking a controversy. The Congress has approached the Election Commission seeking a ban on Ramdev’s public speeches. File pic
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev said that Rahul Gandhi visits houses of Dalits for “honeymoon and picnic”, sparking a controversy. The Congress has approached the Election Commission seeking a ban on Ramdev’s public speeches. File pic

So did Baba Ramdev mean that Rahul Gandhi went to the homes of Dalits to cement an alliance, a business partnership or to show goodwill before embarking on a new job? If that is what Ramdev meant, then he sounds like a Rahul Gandhi supporter, which he most certainly is not.

The first meaning of a honeymoon, however, from where its idiomatic extensions emerge, is very clear. It is a description of the first few weeks after marriage, commonly spent on a holiday and originally used to be ‘honeymonth’, self-explanatory except to those who will not see.

So when Baba Ramdev says Rahul Gandhi went to Dalit homes for a ‘honeymoon’, then follows it up by saying Gandhi’s mother would never let him marry a Dalit girl, any other explanation for what he meant is, yes, disingenuous.

Rahul Gandhi is old enough to take such attacks and can fend for himself. Elections sometimes bring out the worst in people the world over. It’s par for the course. There is no honeymoon for political opponents in the middle of an election. But Ramdev’s insinuations about Dalits in general and Dalit women are another matter completely.

It is one thing to suggest that since Dalits are poor and vulnerable, politicians take advantage of them. But it is another to suggest that they allow themselves to be used sexually — as a honeymoon implies, regardless of idiomatic usage to do with business partnerships.

Ramdev has naturally angered everyone except his fans and the disingenuous defenders. He has embarrassed the Bharatiya Janata Party and not for the first time; but they need him to address their core constituency while Narendra Modi sings the development raga.

No amount of politically correct posturing or Constitutional law has managed to wipe out the shameful ingrained disdain for the lower castes in many Indians. Add to that the usual contempt for women as either easy sexual prey or as predators and you have Ramdev’s statement in a nutshell.

Patriarchy, always lurking below the surface, raises its ugly head again. Plus the assumption that if you are poor then you have no independent thought especially if you are a Dalit or a Dalit woman.

If the best excuse that Ramdev or his followers can offer is that blinded by prejudice and so obsessed with attacking Gandhi, he did not even consider what his words about Gandhi “enjoying a honeymoon” would mean to Dalits and to women in particular, then that is no excuse at all.

Ramdev’s behaviour and actions since he has entered the political mainstream has only been to appeal to the lowest common denominator. His words are not worthy of a man revered as a teacher or of a yoga practitioner.

The coarse and vulgar nature of his pro-Bharatiya Janata Party and pro-Narendra Modi campaign belies Arun Jaitley’s concerns about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra lowering the political discourse this election.

Ramdev has not just attacked Rahul Gandhi which he is free to do but he has attacked an entire community of people. Caste insults are punishable by law and charges have been filed against Ramdev across the country. But what we are dealing with is far more pernicious.

The very fact that people think that they can defend Ramdev by coming up with different usages for the word “honeymoon” only demonstrates the enormity of the prejudice and the problem.

There is scope for silence within the practice of yoga. Perhaps Baba Ramdev needs to work on that for the rest of this election.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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