Govt makes Ramdev a martyr

Govt makes Ramdev a martyr

As the UPA government battles the fallout of anti-Ramdev police excess, it has to resurrect its credibility

Govt makes Ramdev a martyr

This editorial in the Hyderabad-based Urdu daily Siasat gave expression to popular sentiment after a large police contingent descended on the Ramlila Maidan and rode roughshod over peacefully sleeping followers of yoga guru Baba Ramdev. The congregation was unarmed, completely unaware of the government intention and were there only as participants in a protest fast against black money. A majority of them were even unaware that the fast was on without government permission and a licence had been obtained for a yoga camp only.

The police used force, lobbed teargas shells and wielded lathis against the unsuspecting yoga enthusiasts, marking a dark chapter in the annals of democracy. True, it was not comparable to the infamous Emergency but what happened in those four wee hours shamed Indian democracy. It depicted a defenceless UPA government.

No one is seeking to defend the controversial yoga guru, who is alleged to have amassed wealth, owns property and companies to the tune of crores of rupees. The issue is of the way in which the government dealt with his followers, some of whom were reportedly crippled for life. The melee ended with the guru himself trying to escape disguised as a woman, being caught and packed off to his multi-crore ashram in Haridwar.

What is baffling is the UPA government flip-flop. A government, forced to bow to the demands of civil society for a stronger Lokpal Bill only two months ago, panicked when Ramdev alias Ramkishan Yadav (born in Mahendragarh district of Haryana) landed in Delhi at 2 pm on June 1. The happenings of the next two hours shocked the nation – the government virtually rolled out the red carpet for the yoga guru by sending four senior ministers to negotiate with him (a privilege not  extended even to visiting heads of state, who are received only by a junior rank minister). The guru allegedly told the ministers that he was happy with the government’s assurances but would still go ahead with a token fast. Two days and another round of talks later, the guru assures the government he would call off his fast by 3 pm on June 4, after a day long  fast. But he goes back on his word. Key negotiator Kapil Sibal waves a shabbily-written note of assurance from Ramdev at a press conference to expose him.

At the Maidan, the stream of followers, blissfully unaware of the swami’s wheeling and dealing with the government, egg him on to continue the fast. The administration – the police in Delhi come under the Central Government – cracks the whip. A police crackdown begins at 1.30 am. The explanation - the permission granted  for yoga camp and not fast, stands withdrawn. The guru was externed for 15 days.

The government action was beyond reason. It bends backwards to please its man of the moment and then cracks down when it does not succeed in its mission. In the bargain, the hapless followers are at the receiving end of the botched up raid. The government seemed to be on the wrong foot from the beginning, erring at every step. If the government wished to  pre-empt the guru’s moves, why did it wait for four days? Ramdev could have been turned back from the airport; or served the externment order in Ujjain where two senior officials tried to convince him to call off his fast or on June 3 itself when he made it known that 30,000 more followers would join him the next day. In the light of these developments, Home minister P Chidambaram’s talk of ‘threat to Ramdev’s life’ may have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

What did the government achieve from the crackdown, which is reminiscent of the midnight raid on Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan activists in the capital in 2006? While it virtually took on the aam admi who is fed up with corruption, it helped unite the influential urban middle class – supporters of Gandhian Anna Hazare – with the rural masses - followers of Ramdev - despite serious differences between the two. It was unity of Anna’s liberal moorings with the brazen rightist leanings of Ramdev. The UPA helped an issueless Sangh Parivar which, disappointed over Anna keeping a distance from it, lost no time in jumping on to Ramdev’s bandwagon. It was the government which, in a way, encouraged the Ramdev agitation as it saw it as a tool to divide the anti-corruption movement. It will be no surprise if the people forget the corruption and black money issue and remember only the midnight police action!

Credibility deficit

Rightly, the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission have suo motu taken up the issue. The right to protest peacefully is a fundamental right and the Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly under Article 19(1)(b) and this right may be curtailed only in the interest of public order or the integrity of the nation. So, the question is, if Ramdev was violating licence provisions, why did the government remain a mute spectator to his fast till midnight of Jun 4?

As the Centre battles the fallout of the police action, it has to urgently resurrect its credibility: take prompt action against corruption and black money, while not falling prey to the machinations of individuals who believe they can willfully bulldoze the government; and above all, eschew letting loose repressive state power on hapless people demonstrating peacefully.

 

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