Thursday, June 16, 2011

ANNA, RAMDEV: DIVIDED THEY FELL

Flattery can fool the best of them. What to talk of a naïve Yog Guru and a simple villager surfing into the murky, merciless world of Indian politics on the wave of popular support and truth. In retrospect, it is evident that a great deal of thought -- and equal or more misinformation -- went into the strategy adopted by the Congress party to defeat an anti-corruption movement that had energised Indians across all classes and castes.

Baba Ramdev, before he made a triumphant entry into Delhi airport, had done nine months and one lakh kilometers across India to enlighten people about the abyss of corruption that the country had fallen into and muster their support for his fight against it. That heady feeling clearly got the better of commonsense. And led him to make a few elementary blunders that quickly deflated him and his campaign, and enabled the Congress to turn the table he was standing on.

The first mistake Ramdev made was about the timing. Anna Hazare had launched a similar movement at Jantar Mantar in April and had achieved a fair degree of success. The Congress, after attacking him viciously, had capitulated, rattled by the popular support his fast had generated. Negotiations were going on between his team and the government for a preparing a joint Lok Pal Bill to tackle political and bureaucratic corruption. In the beginning of June, the impression generated, deliberately it is now evident, was that Anna’s civil society would have its way. The energy and support for Anna had not waned; he had not yet failed. Therefore, for Baba Ramdev to start his own show then was a clear sign that he was, to an extent, motivated more by the desire to take the limelight and credit away from Anna Hazare than by commonsense. Even if he had planned his satyagraha earlier, he should have postponed it.

Ramdev may have been right in his belief that Anna enjoyed little popular support beyond a small section of the TV-friendly urban middle class, and that he was the one with the weight of masses and money behind him. But, he failed to realise that his hunger to be seen as the real leader of the anti-corruption movement was just the weakness that the Congress party was waiting to exploit in order to slice the movement in two and kill its momentum.

When Pranab Mukherjee and three other ministers landed up at Delhi airport to receive him, – an honour not given even to the US President – Ramdev should have smelled a rat. They even held it to his nose: keep Anna Hazare away from your stage. But he smelled the scent of victory instead, a ridiculously easy victory that made him foolishly feel that he was a real Maharaja and Anna a tiny speck of no consequence getting attention it did not deserve.

That is precisely what Mukherjee and Co. had calculated. Their best hope of victory lay in ensuring that these two sections of “civil society” that had got together for the possibly the first time ever were separated and made to turn hostile to each other again. United, they would have been impossible to defeat; divided, they could be taken apart easily. Baba fell straight into the simple trap. As did the members of Anna's team.

Emboldened by the grand reception and imagining that Delhi was already his, Baba Ramdev added fuel to the fire lit at the airport. He got Sadhvi Rithambara on his stage. This was like showing a red rag to a herd of bulls. There is no doubt that the Sadhvi is now engaged solely in social work. But during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, she had delivered many strident speeches bordering on hate. No one was looking at the present; for Congress and media, only the past mattered. That sealed it for Ramdev. With the media turning openly hostile, Anna’s team had a similar and stupid reflex reaction, blinded to the larger game plan of the Congress, just as the baba was. The split in the movement was complete. The downhill journey had begun.

Mocking the merits of some demands made by Baba Ramdev, just to run him down, was also part of that game plan. His views on homosexuality, for example, are identical to those held by religious leaders of all religions, but no one mentioned that. Similarly, his views about giving death penalty (changed to life sentence) to those guilty of corruption are little different from those of the ‘civilised’ who demand death for rapists in TV studios and newspaper columns. He made some terrific suggestions too, like having world class educational institutions in India, couched in simple words that everyone understands. But, no surprise, you didn’t get to hear about them much, if at all.

Notwithstanding the negative blitz, the fact of the matter is that the government, by its own admission, agreed to almost all his demands, a fact that even he acknowledged on TV.

That is where Ramdev made his biggest mistake. It did not occur to him that with the Anna camp having deserted him and embedded media having turned hostile, Sonia Gandhi would not hesitate to use brutal force to evict him from Ramlila ground. Having got even more than he expected and that too so easily, he probably got carried away. Instead of calling off the satyagraha at that point of time, he dug in. And dug his grave in the process. The police, in a midnight swoop, arrested him and attacked 60,000 peaceful satyagrahis, women and children among them, forcing them to flee.

Packed off to his Ashram in Hardwar, Ramdev called of his fast unto death after nine days, beaten blue by a cleverer and far more devious Congress that not only refused to negotiate with him any further but went back on the agreement it had reached with him in Delhi.

Isolated and weakened, Anna Hazare has now met the same fate. After many solemn assurances that a joint draft of the Lok Pal Bill will be presented in Parliament during the monsoon session, the government has shown him the middle finger. Two drafts will now go to the cabinet; one prepared by the government, the other by Anna’s team. No prizes for guessing which one will go through, if at all.

As of now, the anti-corruption movement stands divided, defeated. The Congress has again hit the fail-safe nerve that has thus far seen it through many difficulties: the RSS card to discredit and dissipate any opposition to it. Both Ramdev and Anna are accused of being RSS agents and worse. The “non-communal” members of civil society have been left stranded in their ivory towers without popular support of even “secular” urban Indians.

The war on corruption has successfully been turned into a war between communal Hindus and the rest represented by the Congress. You are now being asked to make a simple choice: do you prefer RSS/”Hindu communalism” or corruption that is endemic to all parties?

No one is telling you that with Sonia’s Congress openly wooing only Muslims and Christians, with the NAC unleashing a draconian anti-Hindu Communal Bill etc. the only Indians who will oppose it for poor governance and its unprecedented plunder of India are Hindus, exceptions apart. The communal bogey is, thus, ready for the Congress to exploit. Slandering and splitting those who raise their voice against its misdeeds and failures has been and will remain its prime weapon.

No matter how hard the BJP tries, no matter which face it projects as leader, the communities being courted by the Congress are not going to desert it en masse for the BJP. Since Sonia's Congress is leaving little doubt in anyone's mind that its pro-minority stance is fundamentally anti-Hindu, the way to counter it politically is not by being even more pro-minority but by actively protecting the interests of the majority and consolidating it without feeling guilty and without being anti-minority, the last bit being vital.

Unless the “unite minorities, divide Hindus” strategy of the Congress is defeated decisively, what happened at Ramlila grounds and to the Anna camp will happen again and again. This is the first real defeat that Baba Ramdev, the Yog Guru from a small village in Haryana has faced. In the whole drama, he has undoubtedly lost a lot of his luster. Regaining it will take a lot of doing. The swell of anger against the Congress for its brutality can be used to take the anti-corruption struggle to great heights. The slighting of Anna Hazare will also help reinforce the belief that Sonia Gandhi will go to any length to protect corrupt leaders.

But for a new momentum to be built up, Ramdev and Anna will have to come together. The civil society members surrounding Anna will also have stop playing into the hands of the Congress by showing their allergy to anything that is dubbed by it as Hindu/RSS, both being synonymous for Congress. Ramdev will also need to completely shed personal political ambitions that will, invariably, cloud his judgment again.

It has to be a totally united effort for a common objective; all have to be welcomed from every religion, political party and section of society. At stake is the very future of India being mortgaged by an arrogant political class that has got used to blatant abuse of power, limitless corruption and worse. Anna and Ramdev and others must not allow themselves to be divided again.
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Related: Anna Hazare, listen to the rage
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