When civil society is stronger than politics and the media

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Indian masses and their spokesmen in civil society do not content themselves with half-measures in their fight against corruption. The scourge has rotten Indian society from the top to the bottom of the ladder for too long and civilians are demanding a thorough cleansing of the filth from the cogs of all institutions. The civil committee headed by Anna Hazare is applying pressures for the inclusion of the PM and Chief Justice under the ambit of the Lokpal Bill to the great dismay of the ruling party, their supporters in the mainstream media and political analysts who are accusing the committee of dictatorship. But the aam aadmi, the man in the street, is not giving up, and he is giving his full support to the second phase of corruption hatao movement, a fast-unto-death protest announced by Swami Ramdev and due to start on June 4.

Some time back, this paper carried an article on the yoga guru who is giving sleepless nights to the Congress-led government. Today PM Manmohan Singh is urging the swami to call off his protest movement. From his yoga camp in Madya Pradesh, the swami answers that he is not postponing his agitation till his demands are met. The PM promises to find ‘pragmatic’ solutions to tackle the scourge of corruption with all the resources at his government’s disposal, welcomes the Swami’s suggestions to improve governance and states that he is ready to work with him for a just and prosperous India.

One of Swami Ramdev’s demands is to bring back money kept in tax havens to India to use for developmental projects to improve the lot of the deprived sections of society. This point was on the agenda of both Congress and BJP coalition parties in the 2009 election campaign. The BJP blames the government for failing to address the issue. Meanwhile, ongoing corrupt practices have led to popular resentment among the masses. Corruption starts when one asked for a birth certificate and lasts until one needs a death certificate. Writer Gurcharan Das states: ‘In between lies a dreary life of civic unvirtue, of continuous rishwat and sifarish.’

However, the swami does not get into the controversy over the inclusion of the PM and Chief Justice under the Lokpal Bill, saying that he holds PM and CJ as highly dignified. Conversely, many voices in the public believe the judiciary is rotten and no goondha is afraid of it, and that the PM was an efficient Finance minister but has shown poor statesmanship during his tenure, and are asking him to resign. No more no less.

Death penalty for corrupt politicians and industrialists is also on the swami’s agenda. As far as we know, this law is applied in China but corruption is still on the rise. Swami Ramdev twice announced the setting up of a new political party and had to withdraw his project on account of the threats he and his associates are subject to.

Officially, the Congress Party is keeping silent over the political ambition of the swami. His supporters say that the Congress thrives on the vote bank of some 550 m poor in rural India to whom generous subsidies are allocated, and if the Garibi Hatao programme advocated by the swami succeeds in drastically reducing poverty, the Congress Party might lose out to him – and the very reason of its existence.

One major point raised by the yoga guru is the status of the English language in India and the necessity to get rid of the havoc caused by the language amid a westernized Hinglish-speaking middle-class. There is no reason why English remains the most powerful language in India, and has become a means of social and economic exclusion. The aim is to uproot the devastating effect and confusion caused by the intrusion of an alien language in the age-old Dharmic culture of India.

In this respect, his position falls in line with the idea put forward by Pavan K. Varma in his book ‘Becoming Indian’, mainly that ‘the legacies of colonialism persist in our everyday life, affecting our language, politics, creative expression and self-image.’ Any former colonised nation can never truly be free — and certainly not in any position to assume global leadership — unless it reclaims its cultural identity. Language is part of the process of decolonizing minds, the swami vows to move forward with that cultural agenda. Millions of people in India and Indians abroad are supporting him. Will there be a centre-of-the-right party soon in India?

Smear Campaign

One of the most eloquent pictures the media sent us from the Jantar Mantar mass gathering was that of Anna Hazare dressed in a white kurta-pyjama, donning the Gandhian cap, flanked by saffron-clad Swami Ramdev on his right and social activist Swami Agnivesh on his left. The publication of the photograph in the media was not meant to please the supporters of the anti-corruption movement but it was aimed at running down the social activist’s movement by showing his linkages with swamis on the one hand, and condemning his praise of BJP chief ministers in Gujrat and Bihar.

Thereafter pro-Congress journalists blamed Swami Ramdev for consorting with the BJP and the RSS despite statements made by Hazare and the Swami saying that they were not playing partisan politics but they would welcome those who support their ideas whatever be their political obedience. It is no secret that former top BJP personalities are close advisers of the Swami and the brightest among the younger generation of BJP partymen are giving full support to Swami Ramdev’s movement. Leftist secularist journalists’ grievance against Swami Agnivesh is his so-called involvement in politics. In fact, the Swami has successfully brought Maoist rebels back to the Hindu fold by persuading them to lay down arms and embrace spiritual values.

The average Indian has no problem with the emblematic figures of their religion taking the lead to cleanse up politics for the progress of the nation but secularists in the press, brainwashed by a westernized political discourse, have resorted to mudslinging to discredit the movement. But the smear campaign is not undermining public support for the charismatic yogi, and what can be observed among the ruling party and their supporters in the press is rather a sign of panic about their own survival and the direction the country may be steered to with the strong will of civil society.

* Published in print edition on 3  May 2011

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