Is India Re-Inventing the Satyagraha ?

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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More by :  Dr. Gopal Singh

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Views: 3310      Comments: 3

Comment I am borrowing the paragraph below from Wikipedia:

"The essence of Satyagraha is that it seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves, as opposed to violent resistance, which is meant to cause harm to the antagonist. A Satyagrahi therefore does not seek to end or destroy the relationship with the antagonist, but instead seeks to transform or “purify” it to a higher level."

If the Satyagrahi goes for a fast to death it is a great sacrifice. I am not sure what you mean by "it demands blood sacrifice". In any event, if the cause is just and the Satyagrahi is in a state of peril, it has the power to draw the passive suppoerters to a higher level of involvement and sacrifice for the cause. At the end what makes it effective is how just is the cause and how genuine is the act of the Satyagrahi as percieved by the fellow man.

07-May-2011 12:55 PM

Comment My understanding of Satyagraha, Gandhi style, is that it demands blood sacrifice. Gandhi saw the nation as an entity in its own right. If it required millions be killed, so be it. This backfires the moment individuals use the distinct enity, India, now achieved, for their own ends - for it never ceases to be India. In your posing the application of Satyagraha for the fight against corruption within India, as it continues sailing, you asume no bloodshed, but merely mass rallies on the deck of the good ship.

Success by satyagraha demands the shedding of sacrificial blood, as in the Gandhi model, not of the perpetrators, but of the people. The integrity of the nation, India, which makes its internal problems those between Indians, as opposed to being against the British in the Gandhi model, renders satyagraha ineffectual. The corrupt authorities in India are not prepared to shoot into demonstrating crowds, as they do in some Arab countries, in which latter satyagraha is less a matter of choice as of an imposed condition on the defenceless people.

But there is a case for philosophical resignation in the matter of corruption in government, which is not to say the protest against corruption must cease, in that within the context of the nation there will always be misuse of power and privilege, and to imagine some state of eradication of corruption, while one continues to tackle it, is to any mind hopelessly idealistic. Finally, bear in mind we are all imperfect, and our own fight against corruption is potential with selfish concerns which we reconcile as for the public good, that everyone gets a share of the good life. Our only hope against corruption in any context is our love of our fellow man, and good laws backed up by penalties in the default.

07-May-2011 11:05 AM

Comment Putting raputation on risk - 2 days back, Times Now reported Baba ramdev's announcement and also brought him to live discussion on the news hour show @ 9:30 PM.

There were direct questions and counter questions, arguments on the line that such a movemen will dilute fight for Lokpal bill already in progress/ this is power show/ there is bigger hidden political ambition etc.

What Times Now did not inform the audience in the news, before and during the conversation is that Baba Ramdev planned to start this from 4th June 2011 onward. (When many meetings on Lokpal bill would have already taken place).

I learned this when I browsed through different new channels later that night.

So, clearly media has already taken position to support or challange the announced movement, probabely without considering interests of the average Indian.

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
06-May-2011 05:58 AM

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