Baba Ramdev’s anti Corruption Fast: New Face of Communal Politics
The police crackdown on people assembled to participate on the anti corruption fast by Baba Ramdev on the Sunday night, 5th June 2011, needs to be condemned to no end. As the police methods are, brutal by there nature, in their effort to evacuate the Ramlila ground, they did resort to the firing of tear gas shells and lathi (baton) charge leading to injuries to many, including women and children. The police action was the culmination of the failure of the negotiations between Government and Ramdev. Ramdev is continuing his fast in his Patanjali Yoga Ashram in Haridwar.
A brief run down of the background and few details of the event are in order. After Anna Hazare started his fast for Lokpal bill at Jantar Mantar, Baba did join it. The fast by Anna Hazare got a lot of support from the middle class sections. All over one could see the hand of well organized machinery trying to crystallize the spontaneous upsurge of people in support of Anti Corruption movement led by Hazare. This again, one can see, came in the backdrop of massive scams, 2G etc. the scale of graft shook the people and the middle classes spontaneously supported the fast, and RSS backed up the fast and made the upsurge more organized. During this fast the whole attention was focused on Anna Hazare who was labeled as ‘Second Gandhi’! Baba had his differences with Annaji, as he had his own scheme of things to capitalize on the issue around his following. This following has been built up through his very ‘successful’ business of Yoga teaching. This Yoga is being lapped up in country with new anxieties and to overcome the new tensions of the globalized era.
Baba claims to have a massive following and after Annaji’s fast he declared that he too will go on fast with a focus on the illicit money stashed in foreign countries. He began his mobilizing work and his advisors included the RSS trained Govindacharya. His protest hunger strike was well organized, a sort of five star arrangements were put in place with massive expenditure. The support base of Ramdev is the section of middle class, including the trading community and the one’s with organizations like Khaps, who came in large number. Those who have seen the dharnas and protests of the deprived sections of society must have been gripped with shock that such massive funds can be mobilized with such a huge number participating in a protest, which though genuine, still just looks at the issue in a superficial way.
One concedes that corruption is one of the major scourges of our country, but one also knows that corruption is a superficial manifestation of the deeper rot of the system as a whole. The attempts to weed out corruption without addressing the gross inadequacies of the system and massive injustice prevailing it the society cannot work, as repeatedly demonstrated during the agitations led by Jaya Praksh Narayan and later V. P. Singh.
Still the section of population which participates in these protests is those, who are very different from the large suffering masses of the country. Generally this section is those, based on whom the BJP slogan of ‘Shining India’ depends. In addition, there is another following of Baba, whose own source of wealth may have dubious origin. Coming to Baba himself he is quite a phenomenon, a successful yoga teacher turned businessman and now on the threshold of the political ambition, hiding it all under the cover of saffron garb and religious image.
To pick up the sequence of events, once Baba was close to begin his fast, the Government got panicky for obvious reasons of electoral politics. RSS combine has the parallel support base like that of Baba. Negotiations with RSS were already on, about starting a new political party or to undertake maneuvers which can shift away substantial votes in the kitty of RSS politics, to its progeny BJP; working for a politics aimed at Hindu nation. The Government was keen to prevent his fast and in that direction they kneeled in front of Ramdev. The negotiation began and in the second round of negotiations the agreement was reached that government will expedite measures to ensure all in the direction of getting the illicit money from abroad and tighten the noose around those who have stashed such wealth. Ramdev’s associates signed the agreement and Ramdev declared that 99% of his demands have been met. Obviously it meant that there was no need for him to sit on the hunger strike.
Still once he came to Ramlila maidan (ground), he persisted on the fast. Now his associate claims that they purposely gave a letter of approval, as they feared being arrested. At this point of time the Government felt ditched. Normally these agitations are undertaken so that your demands are fulfilled and 99% is the highest success rate possible. So what was the intention in continuing the agitation? Obviously the fast was a pretext to ensure that the mobilization done for political goals should be consolidated and not be allowed to fritter away. The anti corruption label was just a façade and the goal was to strengthen the politics for Hindu Nation, something which had led to divisive tendencies in the country. Interesting things followed. Manmohan Singh says the crackdown was inevitable; the details are not given so one cannot say as to what was there in Government’s mind. It is at this time that the state authorities decided to take Ramdev away and get the Ramlila maidan cleared of those assembled there. When police approached to take Ramdev away, he jumped from the stage in the midst of his women supporters and disappeared. Few hours later he was spotted wearing the clothes of a women and hiding his beard with a duppata (scarf), from where he was taken away.
So far the experience of agitations is that the leader takes the first blow. The leader is there to protect the followers from the wrath of the police action. But this is politics of different hue. Here cowardice is paraded as bravery and honesty is replaced by tricks! After giving the letter to the Government, Ramdev backed out from that and like a ‘brave’ leader when the police wanted to take him away he hid behind the women and ran away wearing women’s clothes, leaving his followers to face the consequences of his mobilization! While giving the letter to withdraw the fast and after this disguise to escape, Ramdev justifies it by saying that these are the tactics followed by Shivaji. This argument lacks all the understanding of a democratic society. Shivaji was a king, battling with other kings for power. In democracy the agitations and discussions are undertaken to lead the path for pressure on Government. Leaders’ court arrest in a democracy to make their point and tricks are a cheap escape route for some. So here cowardice is being paraded as emulating a King’s methods.
The political aspects of the whole phenomenon are very curious. The RSS combine has underwritten the whole movement. It seems, after two defeats at the general elections, this political outfit is on the lookout for another issue which can give them the electoral rewards the way communal violence gives or the way Babri masjid demolition gave them. The present mobilization is the same which is for the Hindu nation, by and large, which is opposed to the rights of the Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalized sections of society. This was the pattern of the mobilization of Babri masjid demolition as well. The things are not so unclear by now. All the actors of demolition politics are very much around. Govindacharya, Sadhvi Ritambhara, Uma Bharti, in overt or covert manner. The other actors of demolition assault, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi have joined in post dispersal protests. RSS functionaries have been the one’s who are the major backers of Ramdev. They have so far kept quiet after the atrocities against marginalized sections, against the violence against farmers or against minorities. Now the Babri demolition gang is leading the procession to Rashtrapati Bhavan and having a ‘celebratory dharna’, dancing and singing, to call for the joint session of parliament.
While the issue of corruption measures against corrupt is to be supported to the hilt, one has to distinguish the genuine and deeper efforts to root out the phenomenon of corruption from the sensational efforts and still bigger sensational presentation of the same by the large section of media. The glorification of Ramdev and the efforts around that are aimed to create a mass hysteria of the pre-Babri Masjid demolition days. The efforts for rooting out corruption had been on at various levels even earlier. What adds to the suspicion about the motives of the breast beating against corruption now is the very timing and the well organized nature of the protest.
The current protests also should bring our attention to another part of our democracy. In a democracy whether the Government is to be seen as less responsible than the civic action groups? While the civic actions groups play a most valuable part in the democracy, by putting pressures on the government in a multiple ways, we need to see that it is still through the elected government that the programs can be implemented. So where do we draw the line. If Government accepts 99% of your demands, is there a need for continuing your agitation. If there are differences in the joint committee formed by civic action groups and the government, what should be the weight-age of each group? After all government is an elected body. The trend of Babas and Swamis coming to the political arena gives a very dangerous message. Is it that we want to emulate Pakistan where Mullahs ruled the roost for long time and even now have a big weight in the political affairs, and that is one of the major reasons for the problems through which Pakistan is going through currently. Baba Ramdev, Sadhvi Ritambhara, Sri Sri Ravishanker have full right as a citizen, but to dabble in politics with the claims of spiritual following is to abuse of religious spirituality.
Many a theories will be tumbling out of the whole Ramdev episode, one of the role it has played is that it has diverted the attention away form the Sangh terror trails which have ravaged the country from Malegaon to Ajmer. The deeper links of those involved in the acts of terrorism with functionaries of affiliated organizations is out in the open now, one hopes that the authorities don’t loose sight to ensure that guilty of acts of terror are given the punishment due to them.
One reiterates that any violation of the peaceful protest for social issues is condemnable, at the same time the betrayal of compromises and five star dharnas may be having more to it than meets the eye is more than clear by now.
(A modified version of this article appeared in Financial World, Tehelka on 8th June 2011, http://www.tehelka.com/story_main49.asp?filename=Ws080611RamdevsFast.asp)-