Sundeep Bhutoria

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ramdev fiasco

I wonder what made the government of a 1.2 billion nation so jittery over the mere threat of a hunger strike by a yoga guru. The Ramdev fiasco has put the Government in a tight corner. 
The uncalled for police crackdown in the middle of the night to evict sleeping men, women and children from the Ram Lila Maidan has revealed how the Government panicked and put itself in a situation it could have well avoided.
With the TV channels playing out the high drama 24x7, most Indians feel the yoga guru and the peaceful gatherers at the Ram Lila Maidan were wronged. The action, which came hours after the government tried to roll out the red carpet to woo Ramdev, seemed vindictive.
Further, the official statement that the yoga guru was trying to destabilise the government was reminiscent of the "foreign hand" argument of the 60s and 70s when anything and everything that went wrong was attributed to it.
Also, the fact that a mere fast unto death by a yoga guru can destabilise a big country like India - a so called super power in the making - seems far fetched. I do not subscribe to this view at all. Those who think so are belittling the resilience and strength of India.
Others felt that the Government was creating a precedent that was detrimental to the spirit of Indian democracy. With the Supreme Court taking suo moto cognizance of the Government action and the notice served on the Delhi administration by the National Human Rights Commission indicates that the Government action was questionable.
In recent years India has seen and thrown up some broad trends like Trial by the Media, Judicial Activism and now Civil Society Activism. I think all these stem from our democratic system and tradition of free thought. Right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution of India. That's what Baba Ramdev was doing.
If the first mistake of the Government was to welcome Baba Ramdev like a foreign dignitary, the second one was the midnight crackdown on the people. As if the Government hadn't had enough, it announced that the Enforcement Directorate and other Government agencies would be engaged to determine the source of Ramdev's funds and other activities.
The ill-timed immature announcement of this act once again showed the Government in a poor light. It conveyed to us a feeling that the Government agencies are the personal tool of those who are in power. It has also given the Opposition a handle to hit back at the government.
What the Government has not realised is that it has overnight given Baba Ramdev a degree of publicity and space that would have taken him years to build. Threats of hunger strike by others, like the civil rights activist from Manipur, Irom Chanu Sharmila, have not been given much importance by the government. So why was this one given such due importance. Was it because of the fear of the spontaneous public response that Anna Hazare's call got!
India has a long history of civil society movements. A call for fight against corruption is a universal call and if the method of protest is a peaceful one there should be no issues.
On the other side, there is no doubt that Baba Ramdev has hogged the limelight during the past few days but questions have been raised from many quarters - Why should a yoga guru engage himself in cutting back room deals with the government?
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