Author: Hari Om
7 June 2011
On May 31 this year, The Times of India wrote an editorial on Congress and the BJP, “The lotus eaters.” Commenting on Congress and the Congress-led UPA Government, the editorial said: “The platter of political opportunities before it (read BJP) today is heaven-sent. With record-breaking scams to answer for, UPA-2 has hit rock-bottom in popular standing. Public anger over sky-high prices and never-ending inflation is palpable and growing. The middle class is more politically charged than in decades, evident from the groundswell of support Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption has received. These circumstances could be immensely rewarding for a national-level opposition party making the right moves… Here’s a great opportunity for the party (BJP) to reinvent itself. With major elections coming – Uttar Pradesh in 2012, national balloting in 2014 – the BJP should’ve been out there campaigning against corruption, agitating against inflation, strategising and sloganeering across India.”
On BJP, the editorial said: “Instead, the party’s in a shambles, slugging it out in its own headquarters, rich in accusations, poverty-struck on policy, increasingly defunct in the public’s eyes. The irony’s thick – while the party carps on about the Congress’ dynastic rule, it hasn’t been able to decide a clear leader after Advani, its confusion leading to tense tirades between rivals. By appointing a chief through internal democracy and lending a firm shoulder to major public concerns – corruption and inflation – the BJP could have emerged as a modern, dynamic, fully-engaged party. Instead it’s clawing itself to bits. So much for this Hindu undivided family.”
Obviously, these comments were made by a keen and unbiased Congress and BJP-watcher. These were significant comments and reflected the national mood. The upshot of the whole argument advanced by the writer was that both the Congress and Congress-led UPA Government have become thoroughly unpopular and that BJP could have galvanized public opinion against them and recaptured the government at the centre which lost to Congress in 2004 and 2009 because it compromised its ideology for power and fell from grace. This was the state of affairs just 6 days ago.
Today, Congress and the UPA Government stand totally discredited. They have outraged the nation. BJP has sharpened its attack on the government as the most corrupt India has ever seen, and as a government similar to that of 1975, when an ‘unseated’ Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspended civil liberties, muzzled the Press and threw behind bars all of her critics, including Jay Prakash Narayan, who led a no-holds-barred campaign against corruption: Total Revolution.
BJP says “UPA Government doesn’t know even a b c of statecraft” and accuses Congress and the government of according legitimacy to radical Islamist Syed Ali Shah Geelani and supporter of Maoist terrorists Binayak Sen by allowing the former to preach sedition under the very nose of the authorities in New Delhi and by putting the latter on an official committee when convicted on the charge of sedition only recently.
It may be recalled that on 21 October 2010, Geelani, along with others, including Arundhati Roy, poured venom on India and preached sedition. While Geelani condemned India and demanded separation of Kashmir, Roy denounced India as “bhookha-nanga Hindustan.” She said: “Kashmir should get Azadi from bhookhe-nange Hindustan.”
The Delhi police under the direct control and direction of the Union Home Ministry took action (beat up) the displaced Kashmiri Hindus and other nationalists gathered at the LTG Auditorium, venue of the anti-India seminar, to protest the anti-India slander. The police not only used force against the pro-India protesters but booked some of them as if they had committed a crime against the State. Geelani and Roy were provided foolproof security cover and allowed to castigate India and promote secessionism. Commenting on the attitude of the pro-India protesters, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir said: “Our democracy is a matured democracy and is capable of absorbing political dissent and diverse view points and so we should provide every individual an opportunity to air his or her opinion in a democratic manner.” Almost identical was the opinion of the national spokespersons and the Union Government.
What motivated the BJP to compare the UPA with the Indira Gandhi Government was the manner in which the police, allegedly at the behest of Congress and the UPA, swung into action against Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev and his followers and supporters (nearly 50,000) assembled at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi, on June 4, to join the anti-corruption crusade and persuade the government to bring back to India black money stashed in the foreign banks by the corrupt.
According to Baba Ramdev, the corrupt have stashed nearly 400 lakh crores of rupees in foreign banks. Some of the major highlights of the cruel and barbarous action by the police include forcible eviction of Baba Ramdev and thousands of his peaceful unarmed followers from Ramlila Ground; deportation of the Yoga Guru from New Delhi; heavy tear-gassing against the peaceful unarmed protesters, including women and children; lathi charge; destruction of the pandal; imposition of section 144 at and around Ramlila Ground; sudden attack by 5000 paramilitary personnel when Baba Ramdev and his followers were sleeping; and attempt at forcibly evicting media persons covering the event.”
The police action left at least 70 persons, including women injured, with some struggling for life. Leave alone the woeful story of those thousands of followers of Baba who had come from different parts of the country. One estimate says 5000 followers are still missing. It must remain a matter of shame for the Congress and UPA Government that they threw to the winds all democratic norms, imposed wartime restrictions on civil liberties, and used brutal force against Baba Ramdev and his followers, whose only crime was that they had taken up a social issue of national import and demanded action against the corrupt. The police action suggests that Congress and the UPA perhaps wanted to produce a moral effect so that no one again raised his/her voice against the cancer of corruption.
Baba Ramdev has compared, rightly, the Ramlila Ground police attack with the 13 April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) attack on a peaceful unarmed crowd of villagers who had come for Baisakhi fair. The BJP also compared the incident with Jallianwala Bagh, with president Nitin Gadkari equating Home Minister P Chidambaram with General Dyer, butcher of Jallianwala Bagh. Dyer and his soldiers attacked the crowd in an enclosed ground without the “slightest warning,” killing according to official estimates, 379 innocent persons, including women and children; unofficial figures were higher. Dyer’s only “regrets” before the Commission that looked into this barbarous attack were that “his ammunition ran out, and that the narrow lanes had prevented his bringing in an armoured car – for it was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a moral effect.” Remember, Dyer, in collaboration with Lt Governor of Punjab O’Dwyer, produced the “moral effect through indiscriminate arrests, torture, public flogging and making Indians crawl down Kucha Kauchianwalla lane…”
Delhi Police under instructions from political masters acted in similar fashion. The crowd was not just peaceful and unarmed, but a vast majority was sleeping in an enclosed tent. They were tortured, dragged and brutally beaten up. If one goes by Baba Ramdev’s version, and there are potent reasons to endorse the version, one can also say that the intention of the authorities was to kill the Yoga Guru and some of his followers. His startling revelation that the “police threw water on the electric wires” and that the authorities had planned to “kill him” could be construed as a very significant but highly frightening reflection on what Congress and the UPA Government thought of doing to the Baba and his followers.
The only difference between Jallianwala Bagh and Ramlila Ground was that while General Dyer produced a “moral effect” during the day, the Indian political establishment ordered the police to produce a “moral effect” after midnight so that the nation would learn of the police atrocities only in the morning. A similarity between what Dyer did to innocent Indians during the British rule and what the police did in independent India to innocent citizens was that Indian law-makers like Kapil Sibal, Subodh Kant Sahay, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Digvijay Singh, Janardhan Dwivedi, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Manish Tiwari and so on, like Dyer, defended to the hilt the police brutalities on the peaceful crowd.
Digvijay Singh dismissed Baba with contempt as “thug” (cheat). Sibal, Sahay and Bansal dismissed Baba as “dishonest” and “not a good man.” Yet on June 1, they, along with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Cabinet Secretary, went to Delhi airport to receive Baba and accord him a warm welcome. The sudden change in the attitude of the government remains a riddle. Things would become somewhat clear after 15 days when the Union Government and Delhi Government file their replies before the Supreme Court, which has taken suo motu cognizance of the incident and asked both governments to explain the circumstances under which the Yoga Guru and his followers were evicted, as also what made police unleash a reign of senseless brutalities against the peaceful unarmed crowd. Congress had from day one unleashed a no-holds-barred vilification campaign against Baba Ramdev, with Digvijay Singh and Rashid Alvi in the forefront.
Political parties have upped the ante against Congress and the UPA Government. The Janta Dal (United), Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, the Telugu Desam, CPI, CPI-M, Shiv Sena and several others, including Shiromani Akali Dal, have all condemned the police action as an attack on Indian democracy and civil liberties, including the right to peaceful assembly and right of expression. Some political leaders have stated that what Congress and the UPA did to Baba and his supporters was worse as compared to what Indira Gandhi and her coterie did in 1975. The month was the same – June. Indira declared an Emergency on June 26 and UPA murdered democracy on June4-5.
The five members of “civil society” who are members of the joint drafting committee constituted to draft the Lokpal Bill, have condemned the UPA Government and boycotted the June 6 meeting of the committee to protest against the police action against Baba Ramdev and his followers. On June 8, they will sit on hunger strike for a day to express solidarity with the cause of the Yoga Guru. They have also questioned the very stand of the UPA Government on the issue of corruption and Lokpal Bill and hinted that they may withdraw from the joint drafting committee, which anyway is unlikely to yield what they desire.
The reaction of people across the country to the outrageous Ramlila Ground incident has been sharp. Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Kolkata, Jammu and several other places witnessed massive protest marches and demonstrations against Congress and UPA, all spontaneous. The Ramlila Ground gory incident will prove a curtain-raiser and create an environment that will culminate in the collapse of the anti-democratic, anti-people and separatist-friendly UPA Government. In other words, Congress is doomed and UPA is also doomed. People will never ever forgive them for the sin they committed during the black night of June 4-5. They will avenge the cruelties perpetrated on the Yoga Guru and his followers by the UPA in the manner they avenged the barbarities perpetrated by Indira Gandhi between 1974 and 1977.
The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research