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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 28, July 2, 2011

Babas, Power Elites and the Reality Show

Sunday 3 July 2011, by D.R. Chaudhry


History repeats itself, first as a farce and then as a tragedy, thus observed a perceptive thinker. The farcical end of Baba Ramdev’s fast, facilitated by a galaxy of babas, ram bhakats, sris, sris etc., preceded by Anna Hazare’s fast against corruption, confirms this. Baba Ramdev built a sprawling empire by commodifying the age-old Indian systems of yoga and ayurveda. The spectacular success of the Baba’s venture whipped his political ambitions.

Since the BJP’s campaign against corruption lacked credibility after succumbing to its party’s tainted Karnataka Chief Minister and his two ministerial colleagues who have amassed huge wealth allegedly through illegal mining, it found the Baba quite handy to repeat the pre-Emergency JP movement. It eventually became a victim of the inexorable logic of history and its attempt ended in another farce.

The Central Government’s VIP treatment to the Baba lends credence to the allegation that it used Baba as a tool to defuse the civil society movement which had found tremendous resonance with the vocal middle class all over the country that unnerved the ruling set-up. It extended a red-carpet welcome to the Baba who dutifully endorsed the government’s stand to keep the Prime Minister and the judiciary out of the purview of the proposed Lokpal Bill. The game was eminently successful, though temporarily. As a logical corollary to a well-crafted strategy, the Baba was abandoned, labelling him as a “thug” and a “fraud”, followed by a midnight swoop on his followers in the Ramlila Ground. This was an atrocious act, utterly uncalled for. This kind of tactical blunder is quite natural when a ruling cabal tries to be clever a la Machiavelli and Chanakya without their mental calibre. The Baba’s attempt to escape in the guise of a woman, his subsequent declaration to go on fast unto death till his demands were accepted and the sudden calling off of his fast, without even a perfunctory request from any Congress leader to end his ordeal, let alone meeting any of his demands, has left the Baba a pathetic figure. In the process both the Baba and his adversaries stand unmasked.

Then follows the second act of the sordid drama. There is a calculated attempt to defame Anna Hazare by labelling him as a mask of the BJP and RSS by some loud-mouthed spokes-persons of the ruling party. The Union Finance Minister has taken recourse to a subtle approach of blaming him along with Baba Ramdev for weakening parliamentary democracy. His argu-ment that the Constitution has given the power to legislate only to Parliament is infallible. However, it raises some disturbing questions. What has prevented Parliament from passing the Lokpal Bill which has been put in limbo for the last so many years? How is parliamentary democracy weakened when the civil society movement raises an issue of grave public importance?

THE Union Finance Minister’s grandiose announ-cement of the Congress’ plan to launch a nation-wide anti-corruption campaign is farcical. Against whom is this movement proposed to be launched? The 21st century in India would be known as a century of scams enacted under the dispensation of his government. The Rs 64 Bofors scandal is like peanuts in the face of lakhs of crores worth of scams now. There is an odd phenomenon of a Prime Minister, known for his goodness and integrity, surrounded by a pack of colleagues whose appetite for greed is a bottomless pit. Bertrand Russel’s observation— “Among politicians good men have their uses, the chief of which is to afford a smokescreen behind which others carry their activities unsuspected” in his essay “Harm That Good Men Do”—is quite pertinent in this case. It is not enough to be good in public life, one should be effective.

The final sitting of the joint drafting committee for the Lok Pal Bill has ended in a stalemate over some important issues like keeping the Prime Minister, the MPs in Parliament, higher judiciary in the ambit of the Bill etc. The Anna Hazare team has expressed disappointment over the attitude of the government side. Anna Hazare has announced that he would go on fast on August 16 to “to teach the government a lesson”. The confrontation seems inevitable unless some last-ditched attempt is made to avert it.

A.K. Antony, the Defence Minister of India, has observed that the transparency revolution underway in India is simply unstoppable. According to him, all those who matter in the power structure—politicians, bureaucrats, armed forces, businessmen and the like—are not ready for this transition to transparency. His, perhaps, is the only sane voice in the ruling set-up. Will anybody who matters in the power-drunk ruling dispensation listen to the lonely voice? Probably not.

The civil society activists should keep one vital fact in view. The institution of the Lokpal, howsoever effective as it may be, cannot by itself cleanse the Augean stables of the Indian system of governance. It is the policies being followed by the ruling set-up which are responsible for the present state of affairs. Corruption, graft and the black money stashed abroad are not the only issues. The present policy framework brings only a small segment of the Indian population in the zone of beneficiaries of development, keeping the bulk on the margins of society. This tends to breed corruption.

India has the largest number of dollar billionaires after the USA and Russia. It has had the highest rate of economic growth after China. On the other hand, 77 per cent of the Indian population lives on less than twenty rupees a day, as per the findings of the Central Government Commission on Unorganised Enterprises. In the Global Hunger Index, India ranks 66th among 88 countries surveyed. Professor Utsa Patnaik, a well-known economist, has characterised India as a republic of hunger. More data can be marshalled to substantiate this view.

The present development paradigm is not sustainable both in terms of ecology and the teeming millions of the Indian population. It has to undergo a qualitative change. This would need a protracted struggle to achieve the desired end. This is a long haul. However, there are no short-cuts in history.

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