When yoga and politics mix: Is corruption inevitable?

When a spiritual leader takes an active role in politics, is corruption and abuse of power certain to follow?

Recently, about 40,000 gathered in New Delhi to support Baba Ramdev’s hunger strike and protest against the corruption of India’s government.  Nearly 13 hours into the protest police forces broke up the gathering using batons and tear gas.

The leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress Party’s main opposer, described the raid as shameful and a dark time for India’s democracy.  However, the government tells a different tale. There was a secret agreement that took place Friday before the protest between the Guru and the Congress Party stating that Baba Ramdev would call off the protest midday Saturday.

Individuals quickly began asking why he made an under the table agreement.  Ramdev responded to the controversy calling the signed letter a legitimate tactical move that fooled the government so that the rally would not be canceled.

The guru and his followers have become familiar with criticism.  Issues involving his morning television show in which he is known to advocate yoga and herbal medicine, and habitually attacks western lifestyle and homosexuality.  In 2009, when Ramdev launched his political movement against corruption, and began mobilizing citizens into his yoga camps questions of his legitimacy began to surface.

Many believe that there’s no one better than a spiritual leader to take an active role in politics, but unfortunately many so-called “spiritual” leaders abuse their status and those who trust them for their own personal gain and agendas. Throughout history charismatic leaders have appeared with seemingly benevolent ideals, but just as quickly as they gained popularity the dark reality of their intentions became apparent.

Both Hitler and Charles Manson were considered to be charismatic leaders who took on an elevated, even superhuman role among followers.  The charismatic leader often claims to be enlightened in some way and exploits followers’ faith convince them to carry out orders. Perhaps it is this excessive and ungrounded sense of power that ultimately leads them to become corrupt.

However, charisma can also be a powerful and beneficial characteristic to those in a position of leadership.  For example, Mahatma Gandhi’s charismatic style of leadership served a large number of people and brought peace to a country in turmoil.

While Ramdev’s intentions remain questionable, the events transpiring in India might inspire us to re-assess the intentions behind our own actions in politics. You may not think of yourself as a politician, but living in a democratic country we all play an active role in the political sphere. Every time you vote — or choose not to vote — in a governmental election, you help determine which type of leader will lead our government.

So, should spiritual leaders be political leaders as well? Is bringing yoga and politics together a set-up for corruption and abuse of power, or would it make for a more peaceful and compassionate world?

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- who has written 21 posts on Yoga Modern.

Patience Steltzer is the Assistant Editor for the World Affairs Current at Yoga Modern. She spends her time drawing, painting, sewing, writing, and practicing/teaching yoga in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. After a lifetime of having no idea what to do with her creativity and energy, she discovered yoga allowed her to find the beauty and excitement in stillness. Since then, she has dedicated herself to sharing her love of yoga with others to help them find the joy she has.

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