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Anti Corruption crusade or resurgence of Hindutva?

Friday June 10, 2011 04:09:39 PM, Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Jinke apne ghar shishe ke hon woh doosron par patthar nahin phenka karte,” says Raj Kumar, one of the most caricatured Bollywood thespians, in Waqt.

This circus back home with Baba Ramdev launching a corruption crusade, increasingly reminds me of Raj Kumar's earthly wisdom that those living in glass houses have no business throwing stones at others.

I have no issues with Ramdev or his cause. He's a successful yoga guru, which is why he counts millions amongst his flock. He also claims to have found a cure for incurables like AIDS, cancer and even homosexuality. But does that entitle him to declare himself a national savior and bring the capital and the whole of India to a grinding halt with his antics? I know, I know. His cause is noble. Who in his right mind would have any issues with fighting corruption?

But self-righteous lectures on transparency and honesty by someone, who went from a humble yoga teacher from Haryana to a jet-flying business baron with a declared $220 million global empire of yoga centers, hospitals and 34 companies in no time, are a bit hard to digest. It doesn't strike as odd to the “babalog” or millions of their gullible followers though. How could he resist the temptation to play the messiah of corrupt masses when a nobody like Anna Hazare could become a national icon overnight with his fast against corruption?

So even as the Lokpal law to fight graft was being hammered into shape, Ramdev had to come up with his own little show demanding the return of black money stashed abroad by Indians, repeal of high denomination currency notes, and death sentence for those guilty of corruption. And yes, Baba wanted all this delivered pronto — instant like his miracle cures.

It's hard to believe that the Congress-led government took these absurd demands of the yoga guru seriously. Four senior federal ministers, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, No. 2 in the government, were rushed to Delhi airport to receive Baba when he arrived from Hardwar in a private jet. They spent four hours trying to persuade him to call off the fast. A nervous government continued to woo Baba even as he went on fast and huffed and puffed surrounded by his flock and an ever-hungry media at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi.

But then we have been through this before. The Congress always inflates minor characters with its appeasement eventually turning them into monsters. This is what Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did in the case of Sikh separatist Bhindrawale, which eventually took her life. Again this is the mindset that made her son Rajiv Gandhi to open the Babri Masjid doors for puja creating another crisis from which India has yet to recover. The Ayodhya “cause” gifted by the Congress helped the BJP mutate from a 2-member party into the party of power.

ONE had thought that the Congress of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had learned from recent history. But that was not to be. So if the initial genuflection before Ramdev was bizarre, more absurd has been the midnight swoop on Ramlila Maidan disrupting the protest and packing Baba off to Haridwar.

And now thanks to that action, the yoga guru has got the legitimacy and celebrity he was hungering for. No wonder Baba sees himself as Bhagat Singh and his eviction from Ramlila Maidan as “second Jalianwala Bagh” tragedy. Jalianwala Bagh? Please!

Buoyed by the new cult status, Baba now calls for an 11,000-strong armed squad to fight corrupt politicians.

What will we have next? An armed attack on Lutyen's Delhi and kangaroo courts for swiftly hanging the corrupt? Where are we headed? Do we even realize the seriousness of the situation? Why did the government have to break the fast the very next day? Who's responsible for this mess? Whoever it is, he didn't have the Congress' — or nation's — interests at heart. As if the numerous corruption scandals that have surfaced with breathless frequency over the past few months were not enough to wreck the party's — and that of the UPA coalition — image, it had to come up with this suicidal move.I hate to nod in agreement when the BJP calls this government a “headless chicken.” But nothing else could describe the confused, clueless and sleepwalking creature called the UPA government. Its right hand doesn't seem to know what its left is up to. Like those multiheaded monsters in Hindu mythology, it speaks in many voices all at the same time with no one being any wiser. And the one who should really be doing the talking is missing in action. Where's Manmohan Singh, the icon of new, middle class India, when we so need him?

At stake is not just the existence of the UPA coalition but the very future of India. Doubtless, corruption, like cancer, is eating into the nation's vitals. The overwhelming response to Hazare's call is a pointer to people's concerns on the issue. No government can afford to ignore this wave of public revolt — India's own Arab Spring.

However, what is disturbing about this whole campaign against corruption is its stridently saffron character.The Congress is hardly far off the mark when it accuses the Hindutva clan of hijacking the crusade against corruption. Even as Ramdev was issuing calls for an armed uprising from his Haridwar ashram, he was being visited by Hindutva luminaries, including Ashok Singhal who headed the Ayodhya movement. And it's not just Ramdev, even Anna Hazare's campaign appears to have been taken over by the same forces.

While Ramdev's rhetoric is ominously familiar, the presence of RSS icons including a huge Bharat Mata image (India personified as a Hindu deity) at Hazare's hunger strike is equally troubling. And how could you forget the aging activist's paeans to Narendra Modi, the architect of Gujarat pogrom?

SO having lost power to the Congress and milked its temple cow dry, is the Hindutva clan now trying to make a backdoor entry, as some in Congress suggest? Maybe or maybe not. But the strong saffron tint to this whole campaign is unmistakable. It's no coincidence that in every second sentence Ramdev attacks the Gandhis and Sonia's foreign roots.

As Sagarika Ghose argued this week, the Ramdev-Hazare phenomenon may be part of the new, Hindu nationalist revolution. “Hindu nationalist consolidation is gathering momentum, much of which feeds into the anti-corruption campaigns. The Ram temple movement is back, in a new avatar. There are many in the Sangh who are eying a similar opportunity to piggyback on an anti-corruption movement. 'War against corruption' is led by people of many hues, but it's also the Hindu revolution's catchall device to rally new support to the cause. A desperate search for a cause and a new rallying cry has led them to the war on corruption,” writes Ghose in her brilliant piece in Hindustan Times.

A Hindu consolidation or Hindu revolution is perhaps only natural in a Hindu-majority country. But should it happen at the cost of this amazing nation's plural character and fabled tolerance? We all saw during the madness of the Ayodhya movement and the carnage of Gujarat what the Hindutva revolution means and entails for the rest of India. Do we want to go down that road? Such an India is not just against the interests of its numerous minorities but is not in anyone's interest. Extremism is as dangerous as corruption, if not more. We must learn from the nightmare next door in Pakistan.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published commentator. The above article first appeared in Arab News.




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