"THE BABA POLITICS" - PIONEER

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kmoksha
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"THE BABA POLITICS" - PIONEER

Post by kmoksha » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:41 am

http://www.dailypioneer.com/345167/THE- ... ITICS.html

NEWS | Sunday, June 12, 2011

THE BABA POLITICS

[ The vengeance with which the UPA has gone after Baba Ramdev shows its Emergency-like streak. However, it must understand that Ramdev and Anna Hazare are legitimate representatives of a society disgusted with corruption in high places. The authorities can suppress their voices, but the vacuum it will create will be filled by more violent and assertive forces, warns Utpal Kumar ]

India is on the brink of a ‘revolution’. In fact, two revolutions. One unleashed by an ‘austere’ man in a white cap not many would prefer to wear today. And, the other by a saffron-clad yoga guru, who doesn’t believe sannyasis can’t indulge in politics. One is a Gandhian who can sit cross-legged for hours, and is the darling of the metropolitan literati and chatterati. The other teaches indigenous ways to keep oneself healthy and has an unassailable hold over the masses of what is romantically called ‘Middle India’. The two complement each other. But that’s not the way the political establishment and the mainstream English media see it.

This disconnect was evident on a train from Bihar to Delhi a day after the midnight drama was enacted at Ramlila Maidan. “How can police beat up people, most of them women and children, who have come from faraway places to participate in a satyagraha? They were not at all violent, were they? Imagine their plight in an unknown city in the middle of the night,” said a co-passenger, a Delhi University student whose father worked on a farmland in Bihar. “This Government can allow a Hurriyat hardliner led by a pro-Maoist writer-cum-activist to script a separatist agenda in the Capital, but it can’t endure a peaceful protest against growing corruption in the country,” he added.

Soon, others joined the debate. One was an Army jawan, another a salesman, and yet another a bank employee — all truly representatives of what Mahatma Gandhi called the real India. The number increased, but the sentiment remained more or less the same: That the UPA has acted in a most undemocratic manner to quell the protest; that the Government wouldn’t have dared to come down highhandedly had the protesters been from Delhi’s upper classes, as was the case with Anna Hazare’s agitation at Jantar Mantar not very long ago.

In Delhi, however, one witnessed an altogether different political discourse, with focus not much on the issue of corruption and the Government’s crackdown on innocent people, but on whether the Baba was at all the right person to hold any such agitation. The central-peripheral divide never looked sharper. The media, too, wasn’t spared: While the English news channels — either cut-off from the realities of sub-urban India or owing to their compulsions to cater to their elite and upper middle class audience for whom the Baba and his followers were just another “funny characters” — toed the Government line, focussing on the alleged misdeeds of Ramdev and his colleagues. It seemed they blindly followed Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s Baba’s-a-thug line. In the process, they forgot to ask a few tough questions: How could the Government suddenly stumble upon so much evidence against the yoga guru? Does it mean that it keeps such evidences as an arm-twisting tool against its opponents for more opportune times? If so, doesn’t it implicate the Government for being hypocritical on the issue of corruption? If the UPA was so sure about the Baba’s ill practices, why did it dispatch four ministers to receive him at the Delhi airport? And, if it was so uneasy about his saffron links, why did it entertain him for hours at a five-star hotel in Delhi?

The Hindi news channels, in contrast, showcased a slightly more realistic picture of how the country was reacting to the Government’s midnight crackdown at Ramlila Maidan. Perhaps, because their TRPs are determined by the masses in small towns and villages!

ANNA VERSUS RAMDEV

Hazare may have inspired a large section of the metropolitan population into expressing concern over the culture of corruption, but the burgeoning small towns and villages remained mostly untouched by the Anna phenomenon. That is where Ramdev’s role comes into play, as any fight against corruption can’t succeed without the support of Middle India.

Ironically, those who welcomed Hazare’s call to clean the system are today circumspect about Ramdev. Not very long ago, it was a field day for celebrities — from Aamir Khan to Kabir Bedi — to show their solidarity with the Gandhian movement at Jantar Mantar. On Ramdev, however, the response has been plain disdainful. Salman Khan quipped, “Why is he going on a hunger strike? Isn’t he a yogi teaching yoga?” As for Shah Rukh Khan, he discovered “an agenda” in the Baba’s agitation!

The literati’s love for Hazare is both understandable and enigmatic. It’s understandable because this class detests everything mass-oriented and accepts anything coming from the media. And, Hazare is largely a media construct. If a magazine report is to be believed, about 15 years ago, when Hazare went on a fast to protest against corruption in the then Maharashtra Government, a group of reporters from the vernacular press virtually became his publicity agents. Facts were twisted, and numbers inflated to provide legitimacy to his movement. A week into the fast, when these fellow reporters told Hazare that they couldn’t sustain the movement any longer, the Gandhian wilfully relented to call it off on a Sunday. Here, again, there was a problem: On the proposed day, local elections were to be held in the State, an event that would obviously hog all the limelight. Hazare right away shifted his programme to Monday!

It’s enigmatic because there’s more about Hazare that should disorient the educated, elite class. Going by the way he runs a village in Maharashtra, he cannot be called ‘democratic’ by any means: He prefers the hands of a thief to be chopped off; he wants anyone found drinking to be tied to a pole and publicly flogged; he believes in rigid implementation of family planning, including forced vasectomies; and, he advocates the corrupt be hanged to death!

Maybe Hazare is acceptable because he doesn’t seem to threaten the status quoist upper middle class dreams. He just wants cosmetic changes at the top — bring the Lok Pal Bill and all’s well! It must be understood that while the upper middle class has the right to be disgusted with corruption, it is also a major beneficiary of the malaise. After all, despite it raising this issue, it is primarily this class that gets the maximum benefits from the bribes MNCs pay to politicians to create a hurdle-free economic milieu. Bribes, in a way, are needed for ‘swift’ economic development in the country where governance isn’t truly efficient. It is a way of buying efficiency, as a bureaucrat working in the Finance Ministry said.

Today’s Bihar is the best example of this trend. People in the State complain that with development, bureaucratic corruption has touched new heights. “Pahle jo kaam pachas rupaye mein hota tha, ab 5,000 mein bhi nahin hota (Earlier a work could be done in Rs 50, but today even Rs 5,000 is not enough),” said a schoolteacher in a northeastern district of Bihar. Yet, people seem content as the State has never witnessed such unprecedented flow of money. “Everyone is getting richer here. Lifestyle has improved. So, people doesn’t mind paying bribes to get their work done in the State,” said a Patna-based businessman. Some, including a Patna Women’s College professor, however, believe the Nitish Government should curb this malaise before it actually gets institutionalised.

The upper middle class, therefore, isn’t quite the victim of corruption as it pretends to be. Instead, it is the beneficiary of the system, however corrupt it may be. The real victims are the ones that have been left out or are on the fringes of the emerging economy. The Baba represents this section of Indian society. And, it’s for this reason that his movement needs to be welcomed, and not derided.

What’s further bolstering Ramdev’s case is that unlike other gurus, he is not “foreign-imported”, as one of his ardent followers says. He first strengthened his network in the country, and it was only in 2006 that he made his first trip abroad. No wonder, his worldview is rural-oriented, and he wants technical courses to be taught in the mother language. It’s, therefore, hardly a surprise that his politico-economic ideas became an instant hit among rural Indians, left behind in the race for economic prosperity by the English-speaking elite. What helped him strike a chord was a daily TV show being aired on the Aastha channel since 2005.

BLAME THE GOVERNMENT

Ramdev is as much the product of skewed globalisation as he is of the failure of our political leadership to deliver. After all, today we face the possibility of a political movement led by a yoga guru simply because our political leadership has failed us. Had Suresh Kalmadi been forced to resign when the Commonwealth shames first surfaced, the scandal would have died a natural death! Had A Raja been removed from his office the moment bad press appeared against him, the 2G scandal would have lost much of its sting! Nothing of the sort happened, hence the full-throated demand for a ‘systemic change’. Hence the emergence of a Baba and a Gandhian!

Well into its second term, the UPA seems both rudderless and directionless. So is Manmohan Singh. This was a man who gave his Government “six on 10” in a report card in 2005, one year after he became Prime Minister. People then thought he was being modest. Six years down the line, post several mind-boggling financial irregularities, Singh is neither modest, nor he pretends to be the one; he arbitrarily gives his Government “seven out of 10”. He puts the entire blame on coalition politics. For him, the DMK should be solely blamed for the 2G scam! And, Sharad Pawar’s NCP should be responsible for food inflation!

Such excuses would have worked well during the UPA-I regime when the Congress had 145 seats, but not in 2009, when the party is just 66 seats short of an absolute majority of 272. No ruling party has been so ‘secure’ in the Lok Sabha since 1991. But then the humility of 2005 has given way to the arrogance of 2011. And, it was this arrogance that was seen at Ramlila Maidan early this month.

The vengeance with which the Government is going after the Baba shows its Emergency-like streak. The powers-that-be must understand that Ramdev and Hazare are two sides of the same coin. Inventing cases of corruption against those who are asking tough questions would make people cynical and force them to take recourse to more extreme measures. Look what’s happening in West Asia! Who would have imagined six months ago that the Arab world would be in such a state of turmoil, as it is now? Hazare and Ramdev are for the good of the Government: They are its safety valve.

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