Friday, June 10, 2011

A Duplicitous Godman and a double dealing Government

Just as one thought that “silly season” was never ending in India's capital, the Indian central government engaged in some acrobatics, shifting suddenly from being supine and stumbling to ballistic and bellicose within a few days. Nothing else could describe the way the Indian government handled the “baba” Ramdev threat of agitating over the “black money” issue.

Indeed the issue of repatriating “black money” stashed in offshore banks is an important one and something that has added to the government's already burgeoning embarrassment of corruption charges. Yet the agitation threatened by the televangelist yoga practitioner – one among many “parvenu godmen” as Prabhat Patnaik calls them – was never more than a half-serious attempt at re-enacting the Anna Hazare moment against corruption. Instead, the government, alarmed and conditioned by the response to the Anna Hazare led civil society movement thought it necessary to engage with Ramdev in the most flattering manner possible. No less than four cabinet ministers were dispatched to pay obeisance and persuade the “baba” to give up his call for a fast to force the government into repatriating the “black money”.

That a government which paid little heed or bother to a large rally of working class protesters – cutting across political boundaries and over a lakh– who had assembled some months ago in the capital to protest inflation and the lack of government response to it, took to literally prostrating in front of a “godman” showed up its muddle headed priorities. Perhaps understanding the ridicule that it was being subject to, the government decided to swing to the other extreme after it found that Ramdev was being recalcitrant and unwilling to honor a secret pact that could have brought an end to the proposed agitation. It decided to let loose its law and order machinery, attacking gathered protesters at the wee hours of the night and in the process, invited a suo moto scrutiny call by the Supreme Court.

If the UPA had already played up the televangelist's nuisance value by paying obeisance in the first place, it had suddenly transformed him into a crusader-martyr by taking violent recourse to clearing up his rally. Incompetence is now writ large on the UPA adding fuel to the fire of resentment against it caused by the plethora of scandals pervading its existence in government.

And the embers of anger that is now raging against the government is being fanned by all kinds of recidivist forces – the RSS is actively playing a “behind-the-scenes” role in guiding Ramdev's “movement”; even the vastly discreditedKhap panchayats' representatives are trying to make hay while this fire burns. “Black money” is now merely a staging point for dark forces to pitch in their own agendas in the garb of opposing the “corrupt” government. And who else but the government is to be blamed for all this?

The shoddy defense of the 2G licensing scam offered by the government's spokespersons, the belated actions in the Commonwealth Games organisation scam, the continued nexus with big business pervading its governance, and the ongoing inaction on issues confronting the people – inflation in particular have all resulted in where the UPA finds itself – between a rock and a hard place.

What of the “civil society” that sees in the idea of an all powerful Lok Pal, a panacea of all ills that constitute corruption? Leave alone the fact that this institution targets only malfeasance and does not even tread into addressing the roots of the phenomena of “corruption”, there remain severe lacunae in the proposals emanating from the civil society representatives. The institution envisaged is suggested to have extra-constitutional powers, going against the “separation of powers” logic inherent in the representative democracy that is the republic of India. Surely a lot of perspective is required – both in the ideation of the “Lok Pal” and also, in the understanding of how much the battle against corruption is linked to the larger war against neoliberalism and crony-capitalism.

That war and the battles to be fought in the interim cannot be won if it relies upon weapons of irrationality as embodied by the likes of the “parvenu” godmen like the Ramdevs or the “Sri Sri”s whose projects go against the larger grains of civic organisation and secularism. Irrational demands and pronouncements -such as those among others made by Ramdev in the course of his agitation– trivialise the issue of corruption and the matter of hoarding unpaid taxes in offshore accounts. They also paper over the very manner and means that sustain the lives of these “godmen” who wish to perpetuate their already dubiously earned “messiah” statuses by partaking into issues of politics that is constitutionally supposed to be the arena of the secular. It is indeed farcical to therefore see a yoga guru who has built an empire out of a televangelist business that claims that “cancer can be cured via yoga”, runs a quackish ayurveda “pharmacy” that produces medicines of dubious value and content, is accused of anti-labour acts, is someone who owns an entire island overseas, leading the moral ground(swell) against “corruption”.

The government though, by its high-handed actions going against the letter of the law, has ceded whatever moral ground it had vis-a-vis the dubious “babas”, in effect, making heroes out of them. Indeed, as a double dealing government tries to outdo a duplicitous (and cross-dressing) “godman”, the real issue of corruption has been given the go-by.

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