Babaji, Slow Down!

Of late, the political discourse in India has beenoverwhelmingly coloured by the presence of activists who endorse a new brand of satyagraha, one that is predicated on confusion of the masses and the romance of television audiences. It is one thing to fight over an issue that is widely understood, and quite another to enlist the support of gullible people by oversimplifying complicated matters.  Inthe recent agitation launched by Baba Ramdev, these points could not be missed.

At the outset, long before he actually started hisindefinite fast, it was clear to the discerning eye that Ramdev washighlighting issues that were as incomprehensible to the common man as they were sensational. The typical supporter of the cause understands next to nothing about black money, except that it is a form of corruption. However, his allegiance is strong because of the unwavering faith he has in the leadership of the agitation. What does this blind faith mean for our parliamentary democracy?

First off, I am not a big fan of the way in which quick fix solutions are being demanded for every corruption related issue. When unreasonable pressure is substituted for intelligent debate, the results can only be clothed in lies, deceit and arrogance. This is evidenced by the roadblocks being faced in the formulation of the Lokpal Bill. It has now been claimed that the government deceived the civil society leaders by making false promises. It is ironical that these very promises were bandied about as signs of the victory scored by the anti-corruption lobby.

A more practical, and beneficial, way to go about the problem was not very difficult to imagine. The first duty that the agitating leaders had was to inform and educate the general public about the nuances of their demands and the ramifications of their acceptance.  I sadly observe the differences emerging on the inclusion of the Prime Minister and higher judiciary in the proposal for the Lokpal Bill. There is no clear and simple solution to this problem. The civil society leaders may be fond of pushing this suggestion by invoking the morality and accountability expected of the highest offices, but they have little to offer, by way of argument, against the genuine apprehension that the Lokpal may place us squarely under the eyes of a Big Brother.

The logical path was to pressurize the government while building up a consensus throughout the country. This would have forced the government and the opposition to discuss the issue in the next session of Parliament, and a more abiding decision could have been taken. Presently, this one issue threatens to scuttle the entire Lokpal Bill adoption process. The civil society leaders will have done a great disservice to the nation if the lose all they have achieved by their agitation, only because they could not find common ground with the government on one issue.

It is clear that many of the issues raised by Ramdev involve an understanding of economics as well as diplomacy. The Indian government cannot, and should not, unilaterally indulge in rhetoric that may sound good on the morning papers but has the potential to scuttle relations with the so called ‘tax havens’. After all, one does need their cooperation, if one is to effectively tackle the black money problem.

It is irritating to see Ramdev repeatedly announce that he is doing this for 121 crore Indian people, and that crores of them are with him through their television sets. He must realize that he does not speak for the nation, nor can he rely on the loyalty of television viewers many of who will easily dump his live telecast for the latest movie promo. In the age ofthe internet, people have very small attention spans and I get the uneasy feeling that most of what Ramdev says is aimed at maintaining a steady cable viewership. Hence, the number throwing is nothing but an act of bravado. It must be stopped immediately.

I am disheartened by the attempts being made by a certain section of the political class to paint Ramdev in a bad light just because he charges fees for his yoga lessons. Until yesterday, nobody seemed to have an issue with that. When the power hungry politician sees a threat to his political turf, he starts raking up the most inane issues to maintain status quo. I hope Ramdev does not lend credence to such allegations by responding equally foolishly. He already has his plate full, and he must not lose sight of the fact that, perhaps unwittingly, he has delivered hope to many people, people who shall stop at nothing except complete deliverance from corruption. Not only should he maintain complete transparency in his dealings with all stakeholders, but also ensure that he is not joined by any questionable character.

Ramdev must realize that the magnitude of the issues he has raised calls for informed debate that may take more time than he is willing to invest. It is true that the government may give in to his demands and come up with hastily drafted letters and effusive promises. Any such move is intended only to mollify him and not to eliminate corruption. If he is really worth his name, he will not let this happen and settle for a debate in the coming monsoon session of Parliament. It is indeed a result of the apathy that political parties have shown towards the Parliament that the people of the nation have lost faith in this great institution. It is this faith that Ramdev
must try to rebuild, with able assistance from the government of course. Once that is done, he would do well by sitting back and enjoying the protracted debate that will indeed play out in the temple of our democracy. I am sure he has the ability to wait that along; after all he’s a yoga master.

In any case, I am unwilling to bow to the diktats of those adorning the dais at Ramlila Ground or Jantar Mantar. For me, all roads to democracy run through Parliament House. Aandolan, anyone?

Ankit Kandpal