|Baba Ramdev announced on May 4, 2011 that he would undertake a fast unto death on Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on June 4 to force the government to act on corruption-related issues. He demanded, amongst other things, that the Indian government should take the following concrete steps:
1. Declaration of illegal wealth held by Indians in foreign countries.
2. Ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption.
3. Ban on all high-denomination currency notes such as Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 500.
The first reaction could be - here we go again! - another opportunist ready to capitalize on the success of Anna Hazare to blackmail the due democratic process. However, let us consider it more carefully.
Baba Ramdev is certainly a well known figure inside and outside India. He has been aggressively pursuing the anti-corruption campaign for some time now. We may not fully agree with all his views and approaches but certainly cannot fault him to raise voice against corruption. He is certainly more credible than most politicians we can think of. He is intelligent, motivated, driven and financially successful. He could easily lead a lavish life and leave us alone to struggle with our corruption problems. However, he chose to actively and forcefully go after corruption and take on the establishment. We cannot deny that. Therefore we need to take him more seriously and try to understand what is he trying to do with the latest announcement?
First of all let us understand clearly that it is the fundamental right of a citizen of democracy (India) to speak out on what he/she believes in and has grievances against the actions being pursued by the government. It is within his/her fundamental rights to peacefully protest against any such actions or policies including undertaking fasts to press his/her demands. It is up to the people of India to support or reject any such actions as they see fit. None of this hijacks any due democratic process.
We all know that our nation is plagued with corruption rampant in every element of our system. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that our government is the single biggest instigator, perpetrator and perpetuator of corruption in the country.
How do you convince and motivate a corrupt body to cleanse itself by itself?
One may say that the best way is to elect honest people and vote out the dishonest ones. After all our government is a representative of ourselves and if we feel suffocated by how corrupt it is then why can’t we vote it out?
This appears to be a rational statement. But things are a little more complex. As pointed out in my earlier article in this forum on Analysis of Corruption in India:
“We have a large electoral base of the un-empowered. They invariably turn out in large percentage to vote in every election compared to the empowered and the marginally empowered. They are largely uneducated (certainly not well educated) and prone to manipulation and exploitation. They can be exploited on the basis of caste, ethnicity, regionalism, religion, language and what have you. Their votes can also be purchased for small favors. The recent spectacle of offering home appliances or cash to purchase votes in Tamil Nadu assembly election is an example. With a large 35% of the population with consistent heavy voter turnout combined with marginal interest from the empowered and marginally empowered in the election process, the formation of governments at national and state levels is largely influenced by the exploitable un-empowered. So what we have here is a case of strange bedfellows; the un-empowered and the corrupt politicians – the exploited and the exploiter – existing in a symbiotic relationship.”
As long as this continues on the process of voting out the corrupt politicians is a pipe dream.
What has happened differently to motivate Baba Ramdev to repeat what Anna Hazare did just a few weeks ago?
The private empowered and the marginally empowered are the ones visibly frustrated with the wide spread of corruption. However, they do not participate significantly in the election process in the first place mostly because they see the whole process being hijacked by the corrupt exploiting the un-empowered. The Anna Hazare movement gave a rare glimpse of this social behavior in action. Most of the supporters of the movement came from these two segments. The modern electronic media including facebook, twitter, email, electronic news and television brought them together into one effective large movement to support Anna Hazare. What was needed was a just cause, a focus and an honest self-less leader to ignite the movement.
Is Ramdev such a charismatic leader? He is certainly very popular in India. He has a very large group of nationwide followers. It appears that he has thought through this issue carefully and is willing to bet his reputation on it.
Ramdev understands that the current UPA government is spiraling down with corruption and is weak and vulnerable. He also understands that it does not have the character or the will to change from within. The people are fed up with corruption and any nationwide rally by the people could easily unravel the UPA government. Other political parties, NDA in particular, although no less corrupt than UPA, will only lend unsolicited support to his efforts in the hope of toppling the UPA and gaining power.
It may turn out for UPA to either meet the demands or risk losing the government!
Sounds like a blackmail if you read it out of context but in reality it is far from it. The critical fact is how valid, truthful, desperately needed and self-less is the demand? If it is, then a simple Agrha becomes a Satyagraha and the whole nation rises to support it.
India is re-inventing the Satyagraha. It appears that Baba Ramdev is staking his reputation on it! Only time will tell how successfully he carries it out?
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