The first time I encountered the phenomenon of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insaan was when a suggested video on my Youtube video feed pointed me to the song “You are my Love Charger“. It was an experience like something never before, and this coming from someone who watched pretty much every trashy Hindi film in the late 90s. A middle-aged, flabby man, with curly hair covering his forearms like the Amazon rainforests in the 1800s, wearing a psychedelic tight-fitting costume with the picture of a lion on his back, moving like Mick Jagger (or thinking he is), in front of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands perhaps even more, screaming in ecstasy like fourteen-year-old girls at a Bieber concert, as multi-colored balloons rise in the air. Soon the Lovercharger Baba, as Arnab Goswami called him on TV, became huge on social media, aided by an army of “Insaan” accounts, that only tweeted praise about the Baba, and RT-ed his tweets, to the extent that you could not help wondering what the budget was for the “organic” social media campaign.
Then came the movies. I watched the first, MSG: Messenger of God, a work of celluloid narcissism of the kind that would make Kim Jong Un scream “Bas kar beti” and reviewed it here. He would go on to make more, but there was only so much of tacky bargain basement graphics, and Baba fighting Pakistan and Godzilla together while driving purple bikes wearing a floral body-suit, that even I could take. It was obvious the movies were targeted to the followers of his Dera, and they lapped it up like the second and third and fourth coming of God, and it was all kind of subversively fun to shake your head and laugh at the antics of this gentleman who said he invented T20 cricket and taught Virat Kohli to bat and done wondrous things that would make Leonardo Da Vinci and Newton’s parents complain of having underachieving sons.
Then finally came the verdict. The stories of his “gufa” and army of castrated men and his forced harem where he dispensed “maafi” seemed out of the Delhi Sultanate, horrific and evil, though not surprising. When you have unquestioned authority, and a place where your writ runs large, and politicians kiss your ring because of the support you bring, and you are the kind of person who has the secret of mass manipulation down pat, it is not surprising that something like this would happen. Nor is it surprising to see the armies of his devotees rioting through three states. Mental programming is this strong. The faith-addled mind, when faced with the alternative between “I put my faith in something wrong’ and “This is a conspiracy against my faith” will go for the easier option.
Just like the Nigerian scammers misspell their letters and provide promises of absolutely unreal rewards, because they know it will self-select the gullible out from the billions, Guruji’s carefully calibrated narcissism and claims of having done fantastic things had similarly winnowed out everyone from his flock but the supremely credulous. If you believe that the supreme leader is a messenger of God who has mastered every sport (32 to be exact) and every skill (cooking, singing, automobile engineering, water and sanitation, technology developer) known to man and actually did 42 roles in a film (read this) you will pretty much believe everything he tells you. Then there were the carefully publicized acts of public good, planted stories of miracles, political endorsements and implied quid pro quos, truisms presented as profundity, a core group of violent handlers to keep those losing faith within the group and to get rid of pesky whistleblowers and journalists, and, in this age, a robust social media strategy through scripted and coordinated tweeting.
If there is anything that this Gurmeet Ram Rahim incident leaves us with is this.
Fascinating insights into the tools of trade of the modern cultist.
And the realization that as long as there are armies of the gullible, and men with the brains to take advantage of it, the Baba will remain the Baba.