RELIGION MAKES lots of money because of the universal
belief that you earn merit by giving. The best of faith-founders have
stressed compassion; so has humanism. For the modern individual, directly
helping the needy is a messy business because you are forced to get involved.
Presenting money or goods to a place of worship or to a godman/woman solves
the issue neatly. Hinduism has a special place for the parityagi —
he who renounces all. The way things turned out, it is the so-called parityagi
who ends up making all the money! What fun!
Usual places of worship do not do so well in money-catching
because they have no special charisma; or they must build up the god as
a miracle-maker through competitive marketing. Big money flows only towards
the talented individual who can create popular spiritual appeal and surround
him/herself with a group of committed disciples.
Disciples are the
key. By him/herself the godman/woman is like a nuclear reactor waiting
to go critical. It is the disciples who trigger the money-machine and
the supporting media blast. They have more at stake than the guru. Almost
none of them is guru-material. They control immense wealth and power
because of the guru’s talent. And when the guru is dead, a statue
with an offerings-box can do pretty well too.
(inset) the Amritanandamayi hug for BJP leader LK Advani
hug is her USP. A simple woman with a knack for popular religious
Kerala’s case is peculiar because society as a whole
here was more secular, progressive, even rationalist, in the 50s, 60s
and 70s than it is today. Those were the heady days of the Left when a
democratic revolution seemed about to bloom. Sai Baba was the only godman
who made some inroads once in a while. But the 90s saw Kerala’s
most startling somersault into a black hole of crude bhakti, superstition
and blind ritual, cutting across all religions. Religion suddenly emerged
as a money-machine. Amritanandamayi was the right person at the right
time. Owners of unknown backyard deities were hiring MBAS in marketing,
and shooting up into the multimillion category. One could say that three
things forced Kerala into being the regressive religious madhouse it is
today. One, the collapse of civil society and of the economic and social
dream of the common man under the UDF and LDF coalitions. Two, active
promotion of religiosity and caste by politicians for their own ends.
Three, ruthless day-to-day promotion of superstition and religiosity by
the media for its own ends.
When civil society collapses, politicians cheat, officials
bark, policemen bully, nothing works and your dreams turn to dust; rationalism
goes out the window, Communism lands in the recycle bin and you start
that quick, easy walk to the ‘miracle-maker’ — god,
man or woman. Malayalis especially were sitting ducks, being politics-addicted
and media-addicted. They swallow every lie and doublespeak the two give
out. Amritanandamayi’s narcissistic world and the world of India’s
largest number of suicides are two faces of the same coin that is today’s
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi née Ms Radhamani fits
Malayali decadence to a T. She is reckoned to be one of the country’s
richest gurus. She is a handmaiden of the Sangh Parivar, especially the
VHP, with its global fund-flows. The hug is her USP. Her media managers
and fund-managers are the real miracle-workers, considering what they
have made out of a simple woman with a knack for popular religious enactment
and the energy to hug all and sundry.
In Kerala, where there is much jealous scrutiny on money
with foreign strings, Amritanandamayi goes scotfree. Foolish Malayalis
just marvel at and admire her wealth as they do that of corrupt politicians.
They feel she has done them proud by being in the newspapers wherever
she goes. The media reports her in terms more cringing and crawling than
those of the devotees. AK Antony, former CM and now Union defence minister,
is a devout follower and has pronounced that he saw stars when she hugged
him. Wow! And she has all the permits from the government of India to
receive foreign funds with no questions asked. So where are you, sceptic?
What’s OK for the government of India should be OK for you.
Amritanandamayi has invested well too. She has an expensive
TV channel which is a great conduit. All the millions invested into medical/engineering
and other professional institutions go under the head of charity. But
the same charity also demands capitation fees of about Rs 30 to 40 lakh
for a seat in the professional institutions. Some millions were spent
on building homes for the tsunami-hit. That was a God-sent credibility
exercise because it looked almost like charity. It was the best mask Amritanandamayi’s
millions have yet worn. It increased her money-gathering power a hundred
times. As we know, what all godmen/ women don’t like is auditing
and accountability. But then, can you audit God?
I don’t think she can yet compete with the churches
of Kerala for sheer money-power in terms of land, buildings and institutions.
There are also individual money-machines, like the Rev KP Yohannan, who
are neck to neck with the lady in cash liquidity. But none can beat her
in media-power. And as long as that holds, she will remain unput-downable.