Just a few weeks ago when hordes of bright young men and women from the Indian middle class, otherwise notorious for their aversion to participation in public exercises and demonstrations, joined Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar to demand a Lokpal Bill (ombudsman), there was hope that the fight against corruption may be productive.
The septuagenarian from Maharashtra, a former soldier of the Indian Army, had brought the government down to its knees and it quickly accepted his idea of forming a joint panel drawn from representatives of the government and the civil society to draft the bill.
Hazare came to be seen as the symbol of a resurgent India’s will to rid itself of the stigma of corruption at all levels.
Well, the will to eliminate corruption is still there in the hearts of ordinary Indians, but the more hardy souls find their optimism evaporating. No, it is not because the Lokpal Bill may not see the light of day. It may still be drafted, introduced in parliament and passed to meet the ‘deadline’ fixed by Hazare. But there are other reasons why it looks doubtful if the bill will achieve the goal of making India corruption-free.
The prelude to the drafting stage has been much muddied, leading sceptics to ask: Will a piece of legislation change a deeply ingrained ‘habit’? There have been nasty exchanges of words between the government and the proponents of the Lokpal Bill, including Hazare. The government has given enough hints that the draft to be prepared by the ‘civil society’ may well be rejected or altered in Parliament. The controversy over the inclusion of prime minister and higher judiciary within the ambit of the proposed legislation continues to rage.
The course of the anti-graft campaign seems to have changed after the entry of a Guru-cum-Swami. Yes, Ram Dev, the media-focused peddler of Yoga, who claims to have the solution for taking India back to the ‘Ram Rajya’, the mythical era when everybody lived in happiness. Banking on his undoubted huge mass following among the gullible masses, he assumed that his support to the Hazare campaign would force the government to yield and bring quick results.
Baba Ram Dev was perhaps greatly encouraged when before he began his short-lived fast in Delhi the government in an astonishing show of timidity sent four top ministers to genuflect before him at the good old Palam airport better known as Indira Gandhi International Airport, when he flew in his small aircraft from Bhopal. Many had been misled into believing that the mantle of the anti-graft movement was being passed on to Baba Ram Dev.
Like most overambitious persons who make the additional mistake of straying into territories they know nothing about—governance, in this case—Baba Ram Dev tried to hijack the anti-graft movement by going on an indefinite fast first in Delhi’s historic Ramlila grounds and later on in his home turf, Hardwar’s Patanjali Yogpeeth. That turned out to be a miscalculation.
What followed was exposure of the Baba as someone who, to put it politely, is not qualified to lecture on cleanliness in public life and also hawk a dangerous prescription for running the country. His fast has ended up prying open many uncomfortable questions about himself. It could well be the result of the dirty tricks department of the government, and the Grand Old Party (GOP), but except for his die-hard followers—and they are still in legions—others are raising fingers at him over a host of issues.
To begin with, the rapid rate at which his health deteriorated during his fast (lasting less than a week) will question his claims to miraculous powers of his brand of Yoga. He had to be rushed to the intensive care unit and kept on some life support systems. There have been almost countless number of Indians, from the time of the freedom movement before 1947, who had successfully outlived longer fasts, requiring no visit to the ICU. And we are not taking about Mahatma Gandhi, a frail man who, as far as one knows, did not practice Yoga regularly.
And Ram Dev says that his brand of Yoga can cure diseases like cancer and AIDS. While on the subject, many will recall that a few years ago allegations were made about the questionable contents of his so-called herbal medicines and their efficacy. Interestingly, some of the politicians who had raised that doubt have lent him their support, albeit indirectly.
His formulation for ridding the country of corruption and other social ills stresses credulity more. ‘Death sentence’ for those who have ‘black money’ stashed in foreign banks; India will become an incredibly rich country (one rupee worth $50!) if all the ‘black money’ Indians have deposited in secret foreign bank accounts is confiscated and treated as national property; the circulation of currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 denomination should be scrapped at once; English, a sign of ‘slavery’, should be abolished; allopathic system should be banished and so on and on.
The hoarders of black money certainly deserve no sympathy and the money they have illegally taken away from the country does belong to the country. The problem is that banks in foreign countries take order neither from Baba Ram Dev nor from the government of India, especially when they thrive on unaccounted money and take shelter behind the façade of secrecy of clients. Unearthing black money is not a one-shot affair.
The root cause is our taxation system and our Inspector Raj, which is thriving even after India had said good-bye to controlled socialist economy two decades ago by embracing market forces. Neither Baba nor the government is addressing the issue.
As for the death penalty, it is to be noted that it has been demanded by a man who is also treated by his followers as some kind of a spiritual figure. Baba Ram Dev, of course, may not be aware that there is a strong move all over the world to abolish the death penalty. A more earthy question is when so many murderers, including terrorists, are able to escape the death sentence how easy will it be to hang an economic offender?
The biggest blow that the anti-corruption movement has suffered on account of the association of Baba Ram Dev is attributable to his huge capital empire, consisting of palatial mansions, vast tracts of land, factories, TV stations and an island in Scotland. The man who probably helped the Baba in building his empire appears to have acquired Indian passport through questionable means.
It does not make Baba Ram Dev a leader worthy of leading a movement against corruption. Not even when the allegations are dismissed as ‘politically motivated’. Politicians are prone to take cover behind that kind of plea; those sitting on high moral pedestal have to come clean before they raise a cry against the evils in society.