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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 26, June 18, 2011

The Baba Ramdev Fiasco in Delhi and Anna’s March of Glory

Monday 20 June 2011, by Shree Shankar Sharan


The people of India were treated to a strange spectacle on the night of June 4, when all seemed normal with the anti-corruption movement of Baba Ramdev, the dias swarming with sadhus and the Baba raising slogans that he wanted karwai and not committees and that the government had accepted his demand regarding the seizure and repatriation of illegal Indian money parked in foreign banks but he awaited those commitments in writing. A press conference of Kapil Sibal displayed the written commitment of Baba’s colleague in the meeting at the Claridges. Sibal promised sending the agreement in writing, with a warning against treating it as a sign of weakness. It had not been delivered by the time we went to bed but apparently reached him at 11 pm to be followed in just about an hour by Delhi’s riot police who descended like a medieval horde on an unarmed and sleeping people in thousands who did not even scuffle with them. To compound the confusion, teargas shells were fired on the crowd to disperse them though it is not clear where the government wanted the crowd of women and children to go at the dead of night. The police also resorted to surprise or awe and shock, as the Americans call it, rather than warn the people to disperse to comply with the order u/s 144 Cr.P.C. failing which force will be used and preferred to go into spectacular action not just to force them out but to put in them the fear of the government if you dared to fight with them. That was the Chidambaram touch to the episode.

Such a spectacle has been rare in the national or State capitals. The last time we saw it was in 1975 at Patna in course of the JP movement when in a midnight raid the police spectacularly picked up sleeping satyagrahis when even as an official of the government I felt my blood boil. Then there was a lathi-charge on JP’s procession when the CRPF, with their customary reputation for brutality, tried to hit JP who, brushing aside the Bihar Police deployed for his protection, could escape being hurt only by the courage of men like Nanaji Deshmukh who took the body blows hurled on JP.
Since the memories and images of the Tahrir Square were still fresh on our minds, the two scenes in two national capitals was a study in contrast. The police in Cairo, where the level of violence is high enough for the traffic constables to be armed, refrained from using force and let the protesters be. In our country, the land of Gandhi, which taught the world to win its causes by non-violent resistance, the police behaved with the ferocity of a colonial police, mindless of the sanctity of a cause or respect for ordinary men and women or a value of human life and dignity. When shall we have a more responsible police more sensitive to their own people? Surely not till we have more sensitive Home Ministers and more caring Prime Ministers. Surely not till the Prime Minister holds himself responsible for the government’s actions and not push the responsibility on Ministers. Surely not till the police, even though a politically neutral force, learns also to be mindful of the people’s constitutional and human rights.

Facts that have come to light later have been even more disturbing. On the one hand one of the government interlocuters has said that there was a plan to arrest Ramdev if he did not agree to call off his agitation at the Claridges itself but it did not happen because of the written assurance by the Baba’s next-in-command. But the police raid happened because of the Baba reneging on his assurance. The Home Minister has gone a step farther and said that the government acted on the apprehension that a lakh of people were on their way to support the Baba which would have been difficult to deal with for the police. This must have been the weirdest argument used by a Home Minister of a huge country to be unnerved by numbers. Has he any idea of how huge crowds are managed in cities like Kolkata or Chennai or Patna? The Home Minister needs stronger nerves than one suspects he has.

The Baba brought his own surprises. Rather than surrender to the police as a satyagrahi, admonish the police to be restrained and try to guide a peaceful exit, the Baba jumped from the dias and melted into the crowd and was first reported as in the custody of the police, but only later admitted to be at large and later detected in disguise walking towards the railway station.

Earlier too the Baba’s conduct had not been flawless. He should not have obtained the Ramlila Maidan on a false pretext. This was un-Gandhian and unethical. Nor should he have tried to escape the police in disguise without guiding his crowd of followers. To cap it all, he should never have talked of raising an army of 11,000 followers trained in the use of arms to fight an unfair police. This removes it from the realm of a constitutional fight, much less a satyagraha.

The whole picture has been further queered by painting the Baba being set up and remote- controlled by the RSS. Several small facts have been stitched up to support the innuendo.

Be that as it may, the Baba was a man of some repute and a following, enough to assemble followers in numbers to rally to his anti-corruption call. That leaders of the RSS or the BJP could have paid respect to him as a sanyasi in the act of fasting for a public cause does not by any stretch mean that he took guidance from them or that he was an RSS set-up.

Be that as it may, that the olive branch extended to the Baba was only a camouflage to mislead the leader of an anti-corruption move-ment into winding up the movement on its own without a care for the cause he was advocating with the clear intention to put it down by brute force if he did not play ball, is disturbing and shows complete contempt for a people’s movement. While digging the truth about the Baba, the government should clarify their stand on his demand for seizure and declaration of money hidden in foreign banks. The baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater

Anna’s Satyagraha for a Jan Lokpal Bill against Corruption

ANOTHER satyagraha of long term significance which has strongly moved the public mind nationally is the one launched by Anna Hazare of proven reformist antecedents and patriotism. There could be honest differences on the details of the Jan Lokpal Bill which proposes to make the Lokpal all powerful on both the executive and the judiciary, whereas the government wishes to make his powers more restrictive. But Anna has given the matter an urgency by his threat of going on fast from August 15 unless the Bill is adopted by Parliament. It should be enough if he demands the introduction of the Bill and gives Parliament time to deliberate it. Anna, as a true Gandhian, should recall how after starting a movement on an issue of grave public import the Mahatma in the end would always be willing to compromise in some way as he did in Champaran. Another Gandhian ethic to remember is that to Gandhi fasting was a sacred step to be taken as a last resort when all else had failed, not to coerce but for his own spiritual purification at the call of his inner voice. This ethic must be followed not to make it an indisdriminate popular tool.

One of the ways to look at Anna’s demand to include the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice as also the armed forces under the Lokpal can be met by vesting the President of the country with the powers of the Lokpal. The President is not free to act except under the advice of the Council of Ministers under the Constitution. As a Lokpal this infirmity will have to be cured. It will have the advantage of the Lokpal being an elected office.

The high office sought to be created of the Lokpal will otherwise need to be filled by a former President or former Chief Justice of India or a person as eminent as Justice Krishna Iyer or Rajindar Sachar to inspire confidence But the Lokpal would have to send his findings against the PM to the President for a final decision on his own to square up with the scheme of the Constitution.

But this would still fail to solve the problem vis-a-vis the Chief Justice and the judges to uphold the sanctiity of a separate and an independent judiciary. The Lokpal must submit his findings to the President for submitting it to the processes of the Constitution.

Anna is fast emerging as a credible national leader and crusader for national causes and has won public credibility and stirred the national mind. Without the political and moral capital of previous national leaders and freedom fighters like Gandhi or JP, he is only carrying forward some of the schemes of political reform voiced by many including JP. He has put satyagraha to the service of compelling attention to major omissions of the government in checking high-level corruption but he will have to bear responsibility to balance it with other major features of the Constitution needed for effective democratic governance.

In his campaign he is tapping the moral reserves of the country which is the main and vital source of the country’s democratic strength. You cannot meet it with brute force but by reason, good faith and accommodation. Because force costs power, not gain, in a democratic society a la 1977.

The author is the Convener of Lok Paksh, Patna/Delhi.

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