By Crook or by Crook: A Response to “Swami and Friends c.2011″
[A response by Manav Bhushan to the earlier post 'Swami and Friends c.2011' ]
Only time will tell if India is indeed changing, or if the last two months represented merely a mirage of change that was seen briefly and which is going to pass us by very soon. And only time will tell if the recent ‘hardening in stance’ will end up costing the Congress as dearly as it should. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that far from being an astute and divisive political move- as it is made out to be in ‘Swami and his Friends’- this barbaric, unconstitutional and totally needless police action taken by the government has actually served to unify and strengthen the attack against them. In fact, the only thing which can prevent this government from being thrown out in the near future- and at the very latest by the next election- is the pitiable state of the BJP and the complete lack of any credible and intelligent leadership therein.
Let me start first by refuting the claim that the police action on the night of 4th June at the Ramlila maidan has divided the civil society movement against corruption which was completely amorphous and multi-lingual to begin with. As late as the evening of 4th June, the civil society representatives on the Joint Lokpal Drafting Committee were appearing on news channels and vehemently criticizing the presence of Sadhvi Rithambara- an accused in the Babri masjid demolition case- on the same stage as Baba Ramdev. They were expressing their deep discomfort even at the risk of giving our controversy-hungry 24×7 media another opportunity to say “look, look civil society is divided”. However, on the morning of 5th June, when news of a sleeping crowd of men, women and children being subjected to a lathi-charge and teargas shells in the middle of the night started pouring in, even those civil society members who have had a long history of opposing communal activities of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar and who had been trying to distance themselves from the Baba for some time now, came out strongly in support of many of Baba Ramdev’s demands and his right to protest peacefully for them.
The Congress has in fact committed the same error that it committed immediately after the notification of the Lokpal drafting committee, when it decided that the best way to diffuse the popular movement led by Anna was to orchestrate a smear campaign against the members of the drafting committee and hence discredit the movement. In the run-up and aftermath of the Jantar Mantar agitation, there were several highly respected voices from civil society itself who were extremely unhappy with the developments and who were also principally opposed to various aspects of the Lokpal bill being proposed by Anna’s civil society. However, instead of exploiting these rifts within civil society and negotiating a weak bill which it could take the credit for- which was the government’s intention all along- it decided to manufacture fake CDs, make false allegations and unleash thugs (to use Mr. Digvijay Singh’s own language) like Digvijay and Amar Singh who expectedly brought down the level of the debate to a street brawl. Just as that move had served to unite previously opposing voices and coerce the severest critics of the Lokpal Bill and the Hazare movement into expressing solidarity and support for the same, the Ramlila maidan fiasco has united a diverse and inherently fractured group of voices against the arrogance and moral bankruptcy of the government.
The most distressing part of ‘Swami and his Friends’ for me is the part where the author ridicules the protestors for their cowardice by stating that “a few threats, a lathi-charge and a few teargas shells were all it took for for the supposed 1 lakh committed satyagrahis to empty the pandal”. Many critics have dismissed the statements made by various political and civil society leaders comparing Saturday night’s action to the Emergency and to the Independence movement as mere hyperbole, and although I find comparisons with Jallianwala Bagh quite ridiculous myself, I still cannot recall a single instance from either of these historic time-periods when teargas and lathi-charge had been used against a group of sleeping families in the middle of the night without any prior warning or ultimatum. What imminent threat did this group pose which could not have waited until morning to be resolved? And since when does “minimal use of force” entail having to beat up women and children and even cause one women to be paralysed and three men to have skull fractures? And although I would be the first to describe Baba Ramdev as naive at best and completely crazy at worst, does that imply that he does not have the same rights and privileges as Team Anna’s intellectual and comparatively high-society members? Even if we assume that his motives are suspect and that he is a front for the Sangh Parivar, does that give the government a right to crush his movement and followers in such a draconian manner? And let us remind ourselves that most of Baba Ramdev’s demands- such as bringing back black money stored in foreign accounts and demonetizing higher currency notes- are undoubtedly in national interest and perfectly legitimate. Further, just because the ED, the CBI and various other law-enforcement agencies are suddenly probing every aspect of Ramdev’s background, and the media has chosen to forget the doctrine of ‘Innocent until proven guilty’, it does not mean that we as a society should succumb to every piece of propoganda that the government puts in front of us.
The Congress has been following a two-point strategy to deal with all the controversies that have plagued its current term in office- be it Naxalism, the Lokpal bill or Baba Ramdev. First, one or more of the Royal family’s chosen butlers (Sibal, Chidambaram or Digvijay) goes on the offensive and takes whatever action they deem necessary- whether it’s a paramilitary action, police action or a more sophisticated smear campaign- to thwart the enemy of the moment. Then the rest of the party, led by the Queen, feign ignorance and hide behind the “unimpeachable integrity” of the spineless or complicit Prime Minister. Finally, everyone seeks refuge in the smoke and confusion created by the mixture of voices emanating from India’s oldest political party and calls it a celebration of democracy. Let us make no bones about this- the mixture of voices within the Congress, when heard in the backdrop of unilateral action taken by a few individuals to protect and further their own vested interests is not a celebration, but in fact a mockery of democracy. The only hope is that the citizens of this country are getting tired of seeing repeats of the same play and will soon find the will and courage to bring the curtain down on this theatre of the absurd.