While Hazare is a social activist to the core and has managed to keep political and religious hues off his movement, Ramdev happens to be a ‘spiritual guide’ and a professed supporter of Saffron India – often identified with the parochial concept of Hindutva. And that very fact may keep the progressive forces away from the fight to bring the huge amount of black money back to the country – billions of dollars to be precise, stashed away in the tax havens across the globe.
Incidentally, the UPA government had earlier sent a written assurance to Baba Ramdev on enacting a law on black money and declaring it as national asset for which a committee would be set up. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, along with Union ministers Kapil Sibal, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Subodh Kant Sahay, also held a marathon meeting with Ramdev, trying to persuade him to give up his indefinite fast. The talks failed to reach any breakthrough though, with the yoga guru insisting that all his demands must be met with.
But unlike Hazare’s campaign against graft, this one lasted even less than 24 hours as the police made a pre-dawn raid at the Ramlila Ground on Sunday and broke up the fast, using teargas and batons. Ramdev was detained and later flown to Haridwar in Uttarakhand, the centre of his global yoga business.
Ramdev gets Hazare’s support
Of course, there was no lack of mass support when Ramdev launched his fast with a yoga session at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. Leaders from other communities were present as well, and Anna Hazare himself supported his cause.
Speaking to reporters in Ralegaon Siddhi, his native village, the Gandhian explained that there were no differences between him and Baba Ramdev over the corruption crusade. Accusing the government of cheating civil right activists on the issue of Jan Lokpal Bill (a draft anti-corruption bill drawn up by prominent civil society activists seeking the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body that will probe corruption cases), he said, “I support Ramdev. When we went on fast, the government conceded to all our demands. But now that we have sat for the Lok Pal Bill, they are backing out of the fundamentals agree upon. So, we will fight together against corruption.”
Will ‘saffron hue’ mar the cause?
Although Hazare has gone out of his way to support Ramdev, the omnipresent ‘saffron politics’ may very well create fissures between the two camps as is apparent from the very beginning. Quite a few leaders of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) were present at the Ramlila Maidan while Sadhvi Ritambhara, member of both RSS and VHP and one of the accused in the Babri Mosque demolition case, actually joined the fast and shared the dais with Ramdev.
Some of the leading figures of Anna’s camp find it quite disturbing. Activist Medha Patkar denounced the Ramlila Maidan show as a publicity stunt and Swami Agnivesh maintained a conscious distance from the yoga guru while supporting his cause.
“Communalism should be kept away from this fight against corruption,” he said and went on to clarify the nature of Hazare’s movement. “Anna Hazare has kept his fight against corruption away from politics. We don’t want to see the civil rights group divided. Anna Hazare is very particular about keeping people like Sadhvi Ritambhara away from the dais.”
But even such scathing statements did not deter other prominent leaders like Kiran Bedi (an ex-IPS turned social activist) and Justice Santosh Hegde who were very vocal in their support.
“The cause of Baba Ramdev is the same as that of Anna Hazare. We met Baba Ramdev before he sat on dharna. We are with Baba for a common cause; it is a fight against corruption. We should see the cause and not the colour,” Kiran Bedi has told CNN-IBN.
While Bedi has tacitly admitted the entry of the Hindutva colour in the people’s movement against graft, Justice Santosh Hegde has been more precise in defining their stand. “Presence of communal forces does not matter till it is confined to fight against corruption. Background of the person is not important if it’s fight aganist corruption. This shows that people from all walks of life are joining the campaign,” he told the Press when asked about Sadhvi Ritambhara active involvement.
Ramdev, has, however, drawn flak from Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati who thinks that Baba should “clean up his own house” first as he has already built an empire worth Rs 11,000 crore. “The reality is that Ramdev is trying to mislead society,” the religious head had said. His accusation may or may not be justified. But one must not forget the fact that none of these religious leaders would like it if the Baba manages to steal their Hindutva thunder and impress their followers in due course. After all, fight against graft will never lose its popular appeal and the moral overtone will always be more acceptable to secular people who shy away from mere Hindu communalism of any sort.
It is not clear either, whether and how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intends to play the Ramdev card in a bid to put the UPA government in trouble. As of now, the BJP is extending moral support to Ramdev’s cause and hopes to get mileage out of the anti-corruption movement. But the BJP may not want to be directly associated with the yoga guru as it will politicise the whole movement and may actually eat into its vote bank, should Ramdev choose to join mainstream politics. The senior leadership may not be too elated if Ramdev garners enough strength to dictate terms.
Crusaders shedding elitist garb?
Whether India is back on the Gandhian track and taking its fight against corruption as seriously as Bapu took his political crusade, only time can tell. Meanwhile, one can take note of a few interesting points that distinguish Ramdev’s all-too-simplistic 10-point charter of demands.
For instance, how realistic will it be to slap death penalties or life term on the corrupt or abolish the land acquisition law altogether, instead of modifying it as per our current requirements? In yet another dramatic but fuzzy demand, Ramdev wants a recall of currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 as it makes it “easier for corrupt people to transport, carry and store large sums of money for the purpose of illegal and corrupt dealings.” Such demands may have popular value but will certainly fail to impress economists and law-makers.
And that is exactly where the discordant note strikes. I do not question the right of a spiritual guru to lead a nation to a die-hard fight against corruption. My only doubt is: Are we adequately prepared to do so? Changing the current order of things calls for an in-depth understanding of the socio-economic nuances. It also requires drafting a foolproof alternative that will have enough credibility. And finally, we should be able to take responsibility for our actions, instead of letting lose popular sentiments and then sit back to watch the unsavoury consequences.
While Hazare’s movement has essentially drawn the elitist and the middle class, Ramdev seems to command a bigger following of aam admi (common man). And that calls for noon-clear analysis, well-thought-out strategies and the power to inspire people from every walk of life – irrespective of their professional and political calling. It also calls for a change of heart at the grassroots – so that every common man will abide by the rule of the law and will have the courage to say ‘no’ to corrupt practices that rule our everyday life.
It’s a difficult and dangerous task – both for the pioneers like Hazare and Ramdev and their growing number of followers. Especially in a country that ranks 87 out of 178 countries on the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index and where the tentacles of corruption are spread far and wide in all horizons of life. The bigger the moolah, the deeper goes the root of corruption, not only in terms of black money or ill-gained land but even then when you and I take the policeman to the nearest alley and ‘negotiate’ terms for drink driving or jumping lights or for talking on the cell phone while driving. Nominal offences, do you think? Nay, monstrous offences that kill thousands of people every year. And all because we are a corrupt nation without a thought for others. Let the elitist, the middle class and the grassroots people join hands and fight for a common cause. Let the leaders of the anti-graft movements lead us to the right path. Once we accomplish that, a better India will be awaiting us tomorrow.