Why Baba Ramdev & Co Must Avoid Areas Like Medicine, Security
It is with a foreboding sense of dread that one had heard of ‘Parakram Suraksha’, Ramdev’s security endeavour.
Almost a decade back, a ‘godman’ (‘baba’) disguised as a woman had fled a protest gathering to escape police action, and soon thereafter, threatened to raise his own army to defend against governmental action. He had struck a theatrical note by insisting, “Next time at Ramlila, it will be Ravanlila. Let's see who gets beaten up”. Beyond belligerence, what struck one as extremely disconcerting was the statement of intent for his proposed force, “They must be dedicated, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. They will be given arms training”.
What might have been mildly amusing to see the usage of the term ‘ultimate sacrifice’, just after the rather inelegant escape under the guise of exchanged clothes, was perhaps not so funny, with the suggested portents of the oligopoly of violence. In a participative democracy, the State possesses the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, through its own security forces — that right is exclusive, and not shareable.
Why the Uniformed Fraternity Must be Apolitical
Globally, the experience of allowing ‘private forces’ or ‘self-defence forces’ has almost always been unsavoury and fraught with risks of backfiring and unconstitutionality, for example, ‘Janjaweed’ in Darfur, ‘Interahamwe’ in Rawanda, etc, or even in the Indian experience with the ‘Ikhwan’ in Kashmir, ‘Salwa Judum’ in the Maoist areas etc, the ostensible purpose of affording ‘protection’ beyond the formal security apparatus is invariably a cesspool of dangers.
Even the delegation of some sovereign security tasks to supposedly pro-government security groups/militias is predicated on instincts of perpetuating political/partisan power, or advancing partisan policies; either way it is detrimental to the fragilities of democracy.
Therefore, the ‘uniformed’ fraternity is necessarily apolitical and swears by the Constitution of the land, and not to a political thought, leader or a party. Dwight D Eisenhower, the former President of the United States, and a former 5-star General, had presciently noted about this apolitical anchorage: “When you put on a uniform, there are certain inhibitions that you accept” — tellingly, he ‘resigned his commission in the Army’ upon becoming a Presidential candidate (Republican Party) and restored his rank of ‘General’, only after de-mitting Presidential office, after 8 years. It is in this spirit, the now-normalised optics of veterans in their colourful regimental regalia and tilted hats defending a partisan flag in a TV debate or public platform, is an abhorrence to the mandated apolitical necessity of the ‘uniform’ — the same should never be associated, contextualised or even visually suggestive towards partisanship.
Last year, Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, General Mark Milley, reiterated a standard of reckoning in the military when he apologised for being in the same visual frame as his President (Commander-in-Chief), at a non-military event. His haunting words “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics”.
So sacred is every millimetre, every colour, every lanyard, every little medallion, embellishment and detailing on the ‘uniform’, that it is freighted with incalculable symbolism that has been burnished over generations of sacrifices and martial traditions — it is a matter of sworn identity, esprit de corps and existential pride, for those who do earn the rare privilege of adorning the same. Many truly pay the ‘ultimate price’ to uphold its meaning.
Ramdev’s ‘Swadeshi’ Ventures
Thankfully, that ‘godman’ got distracted into more lucrative ‘swadeshi’ ventures of beauty creams, cornflakes, infertility cures ‘guaranteeing a male child’, and finding the perfect balance in ‘ripped jeans’ which he said, “we haven’t ripped them so much also, so as to lose our Indianness and our values”.
A quaint mixture of yoga, religion,‘nationalism’, Ayurveda, Swadeshi and Politics was potent enough to roughshod any simmering concerns on ‘claims’, quality or safety — a proud Indian multinational was publicly posited, and the seamless transgression onto expansive fields of professional efficacy and codes, ensued unabated.
How COVID-19 Exposed the Claims of ‘Godmen’
Like the military/‘uniformed’ realm that has inviolable codes, protocols and ethics that they steadfastly honour — the medical fraternity too is given to its own rigorous standards, conduct and ‘claims’ methodology, though more formally and responsibly so, in the modern science of allopathy. The punctilious processes involved before making public ‘claims’ about the efficacy its medicines follows a laborious, standardised and transparent testing process that is strictly adhered to, and never short-circuited or compromised, owing to any subliminal perceptions.
Over the years, many products of many assorted godmen claiming ‘cure-alls’ foe all possible ailments, flooded the market and made a killing, commercially. The lazy and often incorrect view, that at worst it was ‘harmless’ or ‘without side effects’ because it was ‘Ayurvedic’ or ‘natural’ drowned any dissonance — the purists in the field of science and medicine watched haplessly.
COVID-19 was a stark eye-opener (if one was ever needed) to expose the claims of many godmen, televangelists and charlatans to deliver on their claims — none did, some frequently changed the goal posts towards ‘immunity builders’ and others dished out mealy-mouthed obfuscations, invaluably supported by the dispensation’s silence.
Despite a judge ruling, “chasing further profits by exploiting the fear and panic among the general public by projecting a cure for the coronavirus”, and ultimately even the Ministry of Ayush and the WHO were forced into denying issuance of any certifications — but the juggernaut rolled on, partly by friendly silence and partly by brazen acquiescence.
The intended or inadvertent appropriation of the scientific medical domain persisted, this when perhaps the need for science-based rationality and sobriety, was paramount.
Disdain for Science
A prominent ‘godman’ felt emboldened enough to now ridicule science-based allopathy, attributing the same to the COVID-related mayhem in India, and mocked patients trying to get oxygen. As the foremost frontline-warriors in the fight against the pandemic, the medical fraternity felt distraught, dispirited and demoralised at the irresponsible and brazen statements; they had simply had enough.
The government, already on the back foot with the mismanagement of COVID, was forced into calling out the ‘godman’ for once, and he grudgingly offered to take back his words — only to continue with his barely-subtle diatribe against science-based and evidence-based allopathy, soon thereafter.
Ramdev’s Security Venture — ‘Parakram Suraksha’
It is with this foreboding sense of dread, that one had heard of ‘Parakram Suraksha’, Baba Ramdev’s security endeavour. Normally, to venture into providing manned security for commercial/residential sites is a perfectly lucrative, legitimate and perhaps even much-needed industry of potential employment generation. But when it acquires an objective of developing ‘military instinct in each and every citizen of the country so as to awaken the spirit and determination for individual and national security’ — the creative possibilities are dangerously fluidic.
Conflating ‘national security’ with private agencies, with a self-confessed partisan preference is a recipe for disaster which must be frowned upon.
Individual/partisan interpretations of ‘nationalism’ can play havoc with the existing sensibilities, dignities and restraints of the understanding of the same, within the ‘uniformed’ fraternity. His earlier refrain of ‘Peetenge nahin, par pittengey bhi nahi’ (we will not beat anyone, nor will we beaten either) was hardly reassuring in an era where anyone can be called an ‘anti-national’ at the drop of a hat, and vigilantism ensues.
In the Profession of Arms, One Must Be Non-Partisan. Here’s Why
The dangers of blurring the professional domain with reckless emotionality, latent passions and the veneer of ‘patriotism’ is an old hat that has serious consequences. The medical fraternity has discovered the same to its disillusionment, recently — let it not affect any other realms of grave consequences, national importance and the constitutional wiring of the nation.
Being non-partisan is an irreplaceable element in the profession of arms, just like ‘science’ is in the medical/health domain — any compromise to the same, the consequences to the citizenry and the nation, is the same.
Former American President Barack Obama understood the vagaries and normalcies of ‘divides’ and disagreements in politics and therefore counted on the military to be beyond anyone’s appropriation: “We Americans may disagree and debate and argue sometimes — that is part of our democracy. It is messy sometimes. Sometimes it results in some gridlock in Washington. But whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, white, black, brown, rich, poor - no matter how we pray, no matter who we love, when it comes to our troops, when it comes to you and your families, as Americans we stand united. We are proud of you. We support you. And we can never thank you enough”.
Here too, the onus of guaranteeing national security needs no appropriation or outsourcing to any individual or a political party, other than to its own apolitical ‘uniformed’ fraternity.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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