Like many citizens of this country, I was shocked to wake up on Sunday morning and find that the Government had lathi-charged what I thought was a rather harmless satyagrah going on in Ramlila grounds. Like most of my fellow-citizens, I was quick to condemn the violation of our constitutional right to peaceful agitation — the cornerstone of any democracy. And again, like most you, I wanted answers — who was responsible, what prompted them to take such a drastic action, are we living under a Jerkyll & Hyde state that may come out of its sheep’s clothing without so much as a notice.
The answers started coming yesterday. First it was Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh who declared in UP that the action was entirely a Delhi Police operation — at one stroke, putting our proud Home Minister P Chidambaram in the dock. It was followed by a concerted attempt by the BJP to ‘get Chidambaram’ — possibly an attempt to force him to spill the beans on who actually pulled the trigger on peaceful demonstrators. Chidamabaram has a reputation for being very proud of his record as the country’s chief guardian.
Chidambaram’s answer came today — and it is not a pretty sight that the country’s home minister has painted — either of the Congress Party and the government or of Baba Ramdev. The only winner, ironically, from all this may be the BJP.
The most significant part of Chidambaram’s defence of himself and his action is reproduced below. In it, Chidambaram is trying to prove that the agitation was not just a Baba Ramdev affair, but a joint Ramdev-RSS event.
“Government had taken note of the resolution passed by the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (of the RSS) on March 10-13, 2011 at Puttur, Karnataka; the announcement by the RSS of the formation of an “Anti-Corruption Front” with Shri Baba Ramdev as its patron and Shri K.N. Govindacharya as its convenor; the decision on 12.5.2011 of the ABVP to float an organisation named “Youth Against Corruption” and to coordinate with Shri Baba Ramdev; and the circular issued on 20.5.2011 by Shri Suresh Joshi of the RSS to all swayamsevaks to render all possible cooperation to Shri Baba Ramdev’s campaign. Similar instructions were issued on 28.5.2011 by Shri Ashok Singhal of the VHP to all VHP office bearers.”
If true (as it seems), the statement makes two things very clear:
1) Baba’s agitation was a co-planned by Baba and the RSS
2) The government knew very well that it was a joint effort
But that is not all that Chidambaram’s statement reveals (which explains why Chidambaram did not come out with this statement till it looked like he would end up holding the baby.)
The statement also begs two questions — The government, knowing fully well that it was a joint venture between the Baba and the RSS engaged Baba in talks and even let him go on with the fast. Why would it do that? Why would the government try to cut a deal with someone that they knew was already in an agreement with the RSS?
The answer, perhaps lies in the cynical politics played by the Congress. Having been long associated with a non-ideological party (where power is primarily pursued as an end in itself,) the Congress leaders seemed to have made the mistake that Ramdev too was like them. In other words, they under-estimated the ‘Hindu’ convictions of the Yoga guru — a known expounder of such traditional values. They failed to realize that the alliance between the Baba and the RSS was one that was based on ‘shared values’, as the Americans put it.
So, while they could scare the Baba enough to make him consent to go along with their plan (of abandoning the fast after three days,) once out of their grip, Baba reverted to his old priorities and beliefs. By the end of the first day of the fast, the Baba thought he had a good shot to actually carry out what he set out to do — launch a massive nationwide agitation that would threaten the government, with RSS support.
The Congress, needless to say, felt cheated and the feeling of betrayal is still reflected in their characterization of Baba as a cheat, fraud, thug etc.. They failed to understand the importance of ideology and thought they could simply co-opt the Baba with allurements.
Baba had, notable, alluded to both of these aspects — once, when he said that an attempt was made by the government to “buy him off,” and at another occasion when he asked about his agreement with the government. “If I had not handled things with presence of mind on the evening of the 3rd [when the government was talking to him,] thousands of my followers would have been slaughtered,” he had said, when asked why he had given a written assurance to the government. In other words, Baba was scared and simply wanted to shake the government off.
The Congress government, which felt majorly let down after Baba failed to make the truce announcement on Saturday, decided to teach Baba a lesson on what happens when you promise them something and then don’t deliver. While they may indeed have taught Baba a lesson, they also manage to expose their poor understanding of and respect for democracy — trampling over the rights that citizens hold dear and had come to expect as a matter of course.
The sorry episode also exposed Baba. It exposed Baba as someone who got scared too easily, and was willing to give a half-hearted assurance when under pressure. It exposed him as someone who did not trust the democratic credentials of the government, when he refused to go with the police when they came to get him. He perhaps felt that he might be tortured for having gone back on his word.
Baba also made another mistake — he did not own up to his RSS link, especially in this agitation. It seems a silly mistake. After all, what did Baba have to lose by declaring his alliance with RSS with whom he shares most of his nation-making vision and priorities?
There is only one explanation for this — BJP. RSS, as the ideological foundation of the BJP, did not want to be seen as propping up another political organization that may one day compete with BJP for the same votes and political mind-share.
This also points to interesting possibilities — first being that the RSS may have had serious plans of throwing its weight behind the Baba and his upcoming political party as a more worthwhile bet for true ‘reconstruction’ of the Nation along Hindu principles — its long-term aim. And that is why BJP may be the biggest gainer from all this. Not only has one of its possible political challengers lost some credibility, but the visuals of a Congress government using brute force on women and children in the dead of the night is likely to pay it rich electoral dividends in UP and beyond.
As for how Baba will be come out of all this and whether BJP will be more accommodative of the RSS’ vision of National reconstruction, only time will tell.