Offence is not always the best defence. Delhi’s ruling establishment is learning it the hard way. For the past few weeks, the UPA, the Congress and its megaphones have gone cacophonic with questions over the colour of the movements led by Anna Hazare and Ramdev against black money and corruption.
The reaction of the Government and the party to civil society’s champions defies not only logic but also consistency. They decided to defame and deride the same leaders whom they treated like manna from heaven until last week. Both Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written personal letters to both the reformers, praising them for their relentless drive against the same cause to which, both claimed, the Congress is equally committed. Over a dozen ministers were deputed to plead and pray together with Baba and Anna. No doubt, Manmohan Singh and Sonia later put together a very effective team comprising spin doctors, legal eagles, filibusters and sagacious leaders to deal and tame the rising revolt against the establishment. The team led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was expected to rein in both the crusaders by dialogue, debate and database.
They were also under instructions that if they failed in their endeavour, they should not spare any page in the rulebook to derail and demoralise the civil society groups through the use and misuse of the ever-ready investigative agencies. As the public outcry against the system acquires monumental proportions, the Government has devised a dangerous mechanism of dealing with dissent in a democracy. The message is clear: Join Us or Perish.
Once Anna and Baba refused to fall in line, the ruling establishment dubbed them as communal, corrupt, thugs and agents of unknown enemies of the state. But the Government fell into yet another trap for which they weren’t ready. Those who oppose both Anna and Baba chose to ask some questions like:
● Who were the donors who provided huge funds to both these campaigners?
● How are they spending their money?
● Why don’t civil society leaders declare their assets to the public?
● Are civil society leaders divided on many issues?
● How can a few selected people be allowed to dictate the nation’s agenda?
● Why do they want a live telecast of the proceedings of the panel on the Lokpal Bill?
● Why have they taken the support of organisations like the RSS and other allegedly communal organisations?
Interestingly, none of these issues were raised by any of the senior ministers who spent over 50 hours with Anna and Ramdev at the cost of government functioning, pleading for the agitation to be called off. As the Government and opinion-makers it sponsors mounted a tirade against Anna and Ramdev, they received an equally powerful rebuttal to each of the doubts raised about their motives. Team Anna turned the tables on the Government by putting out the assets of each key team member on their website.
Anna also ensured his website was brought to date by uploading the names of the movement’s donors, money spent on each rally, travel and so on and so forth. An earlier attempt to tar the image of Shanti Bhushan and his son by circulating a fake CD fell flat when two contradictory reports were handed over about the veracity of the discs. The Delhi Police have conveniently chosen to forget all about the case. Some prominent Government leaders issued veiled threats, promising reprisals against those who were part of the civil society movements. In Baba’s case, the threats were implemented; the Government selectively leaked reports on his business empire. It also sent out clear signals to all its departments to dig deep into the yoga guru’s past and present to try sabotage his future.
If the Government’s moves were aimed at silencing and demoralising both Baba and Anna, it failed miserably. Instead, it only brought them together.
Allegations of a division among civil society ranks were exposed by a massive protest fast at Rajghat by Anna and his team. They argue that when Parliament proceedings are telecast live, what is the problem with doing the same with the Lokpal Bill meetings? Civil society leaders were particularly upset with the way the Government treated Baba. Questions posed by the establishment were answered to with more inconvenient questions to the Congress and the Government. The most devastating question was on the legitimacy of the National Advisory Council led by Sonia. If, as the Government points out, unelected leaders like Anna and Baba are forcing it to set the tone for legislative business, then why is the NAC, with unknown members, being allowed to summon government files and officials for a brief on every law that the Government proposes to enact? The prime minister and all political parties are under pressure now to force ministers and leaders to declare assets on regular basis. Now, the public will ask the leaders to declare how much money was spent on each rally and also the names of donors who contributed towards these political shows.
Even the Election Commission that has failed to take any serious action against political parties for not filling their annual returns correctly will have to pull its socks. No political party has ever given out the names of those who give them money to run their political establishments and fight the elections.
According to credible estimates, over Rs 80,000 crore is spent by parties every five years on contesting polls and meeting their running costs. Most leaders now travel only by chartered planes.
It is now time to come down to earth. If the Government continues with its strong-arm tactics, it should be ready to confront a tsunami. After all, arrogance does bring agony.
FRONT PAGE | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:02:55 AM
PNS |New Delhi
A day after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee launched a frontal attack on anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team, the civil society members hit back at the ruling dispensation in the Centre. Accusing the Congress of behaving in an “autocratic” manner, they decided to brief the UPA allies and the Opposition parties about the goings-on in the meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) for Lokpal Bill.
“The Congress is not only excluding its UPA allies in the talks for the Lokpal Bill but also the Opposition parties. It thinks as if only the ruling party is important. It shows the Congress’ concern for parliamentary democracy,” said activist Arvind Kejriwal, while talking to mediapersons on Monday.
He said the civil society members would now brief the non-Congress parties on the issue. “We will brief them as to what all is happening at the JDC meetings,” he said.
The civil society would write to the political parties with details of the deliberations that have taken so far at the joint panel meetings. They would also attach the documents circulated during the meetings.
Kejriwal, a member on the joint panel, quoted Mukherjee as saying the MPs were elected representatives of the people and they had the powers to legislate laws. “But the MPs cannot become dictators if they are elected once in five years,” he retorted.
Replying to Mukherjee’s attack on Hazare, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it was a proof of the Minister’s skewed understanding of democracy and arrogance of power. They have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying an honest person like him should not be scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal.
In turn, without naming Hazare Congress went all out against him by alleging that the Gandhian was an “unelected dictator” who was acting at the behest of “forces attempting to destablise the country”.
On Sunday, Mukherjee, who is the JDC chairman, had stated that the civil society’s agitations and fasts were undermining established institutions of democracy such as Parliament. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, both members on the joint panel, spoke to the mediapersons on Monday to trash the charges made by the Finance Minister.
Responding to Mukherjee’s charges, the civil society members, in a statement, said, “Such statements betray a distorted understanding of democracy and an arrogance of power.
They show a mistaken understanding that the people have no role to play in governance and law making once they have elected their representatives and they have formed a Government.”
While Mukherjee had taken a dig at the fast undertaken by Hazare in April, Bhushan retorted that fasting, as Gandhi had demonstrated, was the most non-violent and civilised means of expressing oneself and exerting democratic pressure on any Government. “Unfortunately, a party which considers itself as the political legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, is reviling civil society movements and fasting as anti-democratic,” he said.
Bhushan also objected to Mukherjee rejecting the demand of civil society to televise live the proceedings of the JDC and calling it a circus. He asked whether by this logic it meant that Parliament was also a circus and the MPs were animals in that circus.
Kejriwal repeated the points made in the letter written by all five civil society members to Manmohan Singh to buttress their argument that the PM should indeed be brought under the purview of Lokpal.
He reminded the Government that Mukherjee himself as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal Bill in 2001 under the NDA rule had recommended that the PM should covered under the ambit of Lokpal. Later, in January this year, in the draft law prepared by his Ministry, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily suggested inclusion of the PM in Lokpal’s purview, he said.
Kejriwal went on to state that the draft law was sent to Home Ministry under P Chidambaram, which also concurred in March with this view. Even Manmohan Singh had advocated the inclusion of PM in Lokpal’s ambit, he said, adding that in the last 10 years the Government’s view has been in favour of bringing the PM under the purview of Lokpal. Incidentally, three out of five Ministers – Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Moily – are on the joint panel for Lokpal Bill.
Kejriwal asked, “Now, all the three Ministers have suddenly taken a U-turn and they appear to be adamant on keeping the PMO out of the Lokpal’s ambit. We are wondering what happened post-March, which prompted the Government to suddenly take a u-turn on the issue?”
On the other hand, stepping up its attack on Hazare and BJP-RSS, Congress charged that the greatest danger to the democracy is from the unelected dictator. “If democracy faces its biggest peril, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and tyranny of the unelectable,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told mediapersons without naming Hazare or BJP or RSS.
Apparently sending the message to Hazare and his colleagues not to take the engagement with the Government for granted, he said there can be only one veto in Indian democracy and that is in the hands of people and “not any one individual”.
Taking strong exception to Hazare’s threat to go on an indefinite hunger strike from August 16, Tewari wondered whether it was democratic to talk about such threats when one is engaged in a dialogue with the Government.
This article from the Pioneer is one of the best articles that I have seen; it is precise, objective and thought provoking. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
AGENDA | Sunday, June 12, 2011 | Email | Print | | Back
June 13, 2011 11:21:30 AM
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
Indiais 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 toDelhia 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, aDelhiUniversitystudent whose father worked on a farmland inBihar. “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 realIndia. 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 fromDelhi’s upper classes, as was the case with Anna Hazare’s agitation at Jantar Mantar not very long ago.
InDelhi, 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 theDelhiairport? And, if it was so uneasy about his saffron links, why did it entertain him for hours at a five-star hotel inDelhi?
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’sBiharis 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 inWest 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.
COMMENTS BOARD ::
Truth about India’s flaky economy.
By K P Ganesh on 6/12/2011 8:40:42 PM
I wish readers of this article to google for DEBATE ON GATT a wonderful speech given way back in 1994 by Sri. S Gurumurthy on how India’s quest for globalization has resulted in this kind of catastrophic effect, marginalizing the so called middle India who are working thrice as hard to keep India afloat, compared to their urban dwelling brothers and sisters.
By Ramesh on 6/12/2011 3:57:47 PM
UPA is waiting for a West Asia-like situation to happen in this country.
literarti and Hazare
By SM Singh on 6/12/2011 3:32:10 PM
Really loved this line of yours: “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.” Great piece.
By Raj on 6/12/2011 12:14:49 PM
Good that swamiji today ended his fast. However, this has exposed how insensitive the rulers are.
By abhinav kumar on 6/12/2011 10:57:46 AM
A true and an excellent peice of an article!!! well done u have presented the true picture.
THE BABA POLITICS
By Hare Ram on 6/12/2011 9:21:59 AM
Very well written. This is a first positive article ever read on media about Baba. Seems like all other medias joined Congress. I don’t care how much money Baba made but all the issues he raised are legitimate. I don’t think he cheated any one.
More leaders needed
By Rahul on 6/12/2011 8:15:32 AM
Lessons from the freedom movement is (particularly after Gandhiji’s 1915 India arrival), do not allow the rulers to highlight only one or two netas with whom they are comfortable with and undermine other Leaders of the movement. Bapu and hon J Nehru were the two netas overshadowing others during the transfer of power in 1947 and the bloody partition of the Country. A similar pattern of Hazare undermining all other leaders of the anti corruption movement must be prevented from developing.
A Million Revolutions In a Wounded Civilization
By Maheswar inKathmanduon 6/12/2011 7:14:26 AM
V S Naipaul astutely foresaw the million revolutions bubbling, all overIndia, having first viewed it as a wounded civilization. All these revolts and wounds are now surfacing as the voice of the ‘real’India, the vast new middle class that barely earn $2-4 per day, who are vulnerable to the downswings of globalization, its inequities and immoralities. They want modernity with their traditional identities in place; not be caricatures of the West as are the upper middle classes.
The truth few in India Know.
By sadia on 6/12/2011 4:12:22 AM
Indialost its independent status the day an illiterate but KGB trained honey trap appeared in Rajiv’s life. Then she lined up a job for being an interpreter of RAW with Italian secret service. She had already converted Rajiv from Muslim to Roberto to marry her.She brought Italian Mafia in form of Quotrocchi. Rajiv already had started receving money from Soviet government in swiss Bank. When Rajiv threatened to divorce her Quotrocchi met Prabhakaran to sort problem out.
The BABA politics
By panchali on 6/12/2011 12:59:36 AM
Very well commented. I totally agree with you that the UPA’s mistreatment of Baba Ramdev is going to backfire on the Government big time. I also liked you Anna versus Baba comparision. But the best was the safety valve theory.
Thank God for this article
By Soumya Dutta on 6/12/2011 12:45:25 AM
I was losing belief completely and truly in the Indian print media when the involuntary death of MF Hussain was being given greater preference to the well meaning and fully voluntary fast undertaken by Ramdev. It is a shame that the media derides the yoga guru who has today undertaken a fast to cleanse the system of its 60 years-old evil by petty journalism. Having said and that and then having read this article, I firmly believe not everything has been lost.
June 09, 2011 10:26:44 AM
The Congress showed its fascist streak last Sunday night when it ordered Delhi Police to brutalise thousands of men, women and children who had gathered at Ramlila Ground to peacefully protest against the most venal cash-and-carry Government India has ever had and which is led by the party. Since then, the Congress has also demonstrated how low it can stoop by taking recourse to coarse bazaar language while defending the morally and legally indefensible police crackdown it ordered on sleeping protesters and then attacking the Opposition for taking up cudgels on behalf of the victims of Sunday night’s atrocity. High on the conviction that nothing or nobody can stop it from abusing power and misusing authority, the Congress has sought to tar the reputation of the RSS and the BJP, launching a scurrilous attack on both organisations and their leaders. The tone and tenor of those speaking on behalf of the party are not dissimilar to that of hoodlums who seek to scare people into submission; their loutish language makes the most scurrilous reportage of cheap yellow rags that made Page 3 popular among the under-classes appear sanitised and clean. The lexicon of political discourse, it would appear, in the case of the Congress has suddenly shrunk to terms of abuse as foul-mouthed spokespersons compete with each other, with more than a little help from ‘friendly’ media, to prove who is more boorish. Is this the new loyalty test set by the party president? For nothing else explains why Ms Sonia Gandhi has chosen to remain silent as her foot soldiers unleash volley after volley of uncouth verbal assault on the Congress’s political opponents. The political commentary, if at all this expression can be used given the low level of discourse, that emanated from the Congress on Tuesday when party leaders made shockingly disparaging remarks that can be construed to be repulsively sexist against the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj, has left many people wondering whether Ms Gandhi endorses such vulgarity. It is a sad reflection of the state of affairs that prevails in India’s Grand Old Party that its president should maintain a stunning silence as her colleagues betray their true character and class.
Political debate can be acrimonious, but it should never descend to abuse and character assassination. Nor should parties seek to score political points by directing their ire at individuals, unless the issue merits such attack. The issue that agitates India at the moment is not about individuals but an institution, namely the Congress and the rampant corruption it has spawned in high places. Linked to this is the Congress’s arrogance, its criminally callous indifference to popular disquiet simply because it wields power and believes it can ride roughshod over the people of this country. The Congress forgets that it has been humbled by the people on more than one occasion in the past, that too when the party was led by stalwarts. Tragically, its current leaders have not learned any lessons from the party’s post-1975 history; worse, they have elected to become one with the hooligans who populate the Congress’s ranks. It’s a shame and a pity. The shame is entirely that of the Congress; it’s a pity that India should be saddled with a Government that has to depend on goons masquerading as Gandhi’s political heirs.