Saturday, June 11, 2011

Baba Ramdev's political gamble

Dead Baba Ramdev will be far more difficult for government to handle than when he is alive. His media officers inform: he is now been shifted to special intensive care unit in a local hospital, his blood pressure plummeting low.

Given that Baba Ramdev is an astute politician, he is unlikely to die fasting. Like all great politicians, he will find a way or a reason to call off his fast just in time to rescue himself.

I have no doubt in my mind that he is a politician, and not a yogi carrying out a selfless act in the larger interest of the society. A yogi has to stay away from the affairs of the state, and not become a rallying point for political power.

So there is a reason why he is doing this satyagraha against kaala dhan (black money), in the way he is doing it. It is a predictable and a scripted act. And he has the support of a political outfit. Role of RSS is not just that of a passive supporter. But I don’t think there is anything sinisterly wrong about Ramdev seeking RSS support. There is nothing profound about it, either.

He has a political ambition, a big one. He needs an issue potent enough to capture the imagination of the whole nation. Yoga and Ayurveda has provided him a huge platform, a pan India recognition, a celebrity-cult status, and also enormous wealth, officially in excess of a thousand crores. But Baba Ramdev is not sure whether this larger than life image will transform into ready votes for him. He needs more potent issue, with deeper political ramifications, with much higher propensity to cash in as votes.

Corruption is the political issue that Baba Ramdev needs to garner votes. It is a touchy issue; the masses are the worst sufferer, individually and collectively.

He has vowed to form a political party in near future. He is founded Bharat Swabhiman Andolan (India’s Self-respect movement). As the name suggests the idea is to revoke ‘swadeshi’ sentiments of early twentieth centuries. Akin to RSS ideology, Baba Ramdev plans to accomplish: nationalist vision to the extent of boycott of foreign goods, a cent per cent Yoga-oriented nation (perhaps that is the way he will get the top job), also fight corruption which has acquired ‘alarming proportion of the country’s economy’. This is a political agenda of a rich yogi.

Initially, he joined hands with Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. The association was not pecuniary. He attended few of the public meetings and agreed to educate people to say no to corruption in his yoga-lessons telecast that has millions of viewers.

Anna Hazare’s fasting success took everyone by surprise: government, people and the civil society themselves. The government was forced to give in, a 10 member joint committee was formed, with equal representation from civil society, to draft a bill for creation of a strong institution of Lok Pal that would create an effective deterrence against corrupt judges, politicians and bureaucrats.

Baba Ramdev was not made the member of the committee. He was not happy, unofficially. But he now knew the power of satyagraha (self denial of food for a cause). He was obliged to go on fast broadly on the same issue, but his focus was on the black money from India stashed in foreign banks, an obvious fallout of a corrupt society.

Unlike Anna Hazare’s movement this was not spontaneous. Baba Ramdev got lot of media attention, and when he arrived Delhi to lead Satyagarha at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan, red carpet was rolled out for him, he was received by the senior cabinet ministers who were the members of the Lok Pal bill drafting committee from government's side.

I had a feeling that government using Baba Ramdev to neutralise Anna Hazare and gang who were turning out to be tough negotiators. Thorny issue of whether Prime Minister should come under the ambit of Lok Pal was unresolved. Baba even before he started the fast, gave government a huge concession, he agreed that Prime Minister should not be in the ambit of Lok Pal.

The government seemed happy, but not the Congress party. The party has openly criticised government for bending backwards in dealing with Baba Ramdev. The party perhaps realised that Baba is an RSS plant, should not be allowed to become an anti–corruption messiah. He had to be stopped. The orders came from the highest in the party, which was later vouched by the home ministry, a huge contingent of Delhi Police reached the Ramlila Maidan in the middle of the night, ended Baba’s grand satyagraha with use of force in flat two hours, he was detained and deported to Hardwar. Where he has continued to fast and get sicker, but also managed to reveal financial details of his Yoga and Ayurveda empire.

The government made a mistake. Baba Ramdev was shifted to a BJP run state, Uttrakhand. Here he will get all the support of the local government and with media giving him the kind of coverage, it does not matter whether he is in New Delhi or somewhere else, to create a nation-wide stir. Now it is the battle of nerves: who gives in first, the government or the Baba, presuming that the latter will not settle for an untimely death.

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