Brief overview of the Ramdev satyagraha stunt
With all the press and TV coverage focused at the ‘crusade’ of ‘Baba Ramdev’ a.k.a Ramkishen Yadav, against black money and corruption, not much background needs to be provided. In short he has threatened the launch of an indefinite ‘fast’ along with many of his followers unless a long laundry list of demands are acceded. The list of demands, as quoted by the ‘The Hindu’, range from the serious to the bizarre. The serious demands are only about 3 or 4 mainly relating to confiscation of and repatriation to India of slush funds of evaders and offenders stashed away in Swiss and other tax havens around the globe. This demand is the focus of this article. While the bizarre demands of the ‘Baba’ relating to instituting a ‘religious mode of life’ and pseudoscientific disciplines in the country through legislation and government support, are the source of concern for a nation that professes liberal democracy, they are in a large part serving the role of an icing on the cake and the bells and whistles that serve as the magnet for attracting diverse vested interests in support of a crusade.
The emotive chord of public mood that this event is arousing, and its possible reasons
The most emotive issue that Ramdev is harping on in his ‘indefinite fast’ publicity drive is the bringing back of black money hidden in foreign bankaccounts, and the prosecution and punishment of the offenders. As Anna Hazare demonstrated 2 months ago, this issue continues to capture public interest and the glare of media limelight. One is hard put to deny the success of this strategy of bringing the ‘Lok Pal’ bill and agency to the center of ‘national attraction’. Whatever the verbal and legal wrangling going on in the press and intellectual circles over the minutiae of the Lok Pal bill, for a high profile crusader with ulterior motives it is an excellent stick with which to beat the already much-maligned political elite. High-sounding yet naïve statements by editors of even high-profile newspapers like the ‘The Hindu’ such as “Most of the corruption can be tackled simply by greater transparency at every stage of the process“, only serve to inflame public passions and frustrations further. The trillion $ question that these arm-chair editors and political ‘analysts’ don’t care to answer is that if corruption can be tackled ‘simply’ by ‘greater transparency’, why has it not been taken head-on in the last 60 years since independence and especially after the post 1991 liberalization and globalization era, when as per information from global transparency watchdogs, corruption and money laundering from India has magnified manifold. Despite all the self-serving sermons from the press and the political elite about laws and regulations, India does not have even a single indictment of a money laundering offender from the current or past generation of the political elite to show as an example of its seriousness about public probity. The true reason, which everyone knows but can apparently do little about, is the lack of political and social will to use enforcement in eradicating venality and misfeasance in public life. And that will is not forthcoming because almost the entire active polity of the country is guilty of the crime and misconduct that is at the heart of this matter. It is like expecting a criminal to prosecute and punish himself. This absurdity, though seemingly a ridiculous situation, is an incredible truism for India and really makes it the horns of its national dilemma. The middle classes for all their faults are still the navigators and auditors of the mood of the intelligentsia and the public opinion in general. The gap of credibility caused by massive erosion of trust in the credentials of the reigning political elite is being sought to be filled by Gandhians, Gurus, godmen, retired judges, ex-police chiefs and other assorted characters of celebrity. Where Ramdev is scoring in strategy over other contenders and pretenders for this crusade is his melding of aggressive “designer Gandhism” with public relations fine-tuning.
The agitation and the Gandhi family connection
Coming back to the political connection and motives of the Ramdev campaign for corruption and Lok Pal, it is interesting to note the mention of the Gandhi family in his letter to the PM. No other names have been mentioned in that letter. While the family is quoted in the capacity of Congress President SG and Gen. Sec. RG, it is hard not to miss the oblique implication of their complicity and involvement in the issue from Ramdev. Though it may be taboo in political and press circles, the Gandhi family and the association with corruption and money laundering is synonymous. It has surely started with Indira Gandhi, but the later generations of this family have been no less adept in continuing and enlarging this practice. This de facto first or royal family does a lot of sloganeering about the poor and amenities for all, while having close to $10 billion or more of personal fortunes stashed away in Swiss and other off-shore accounts. Here are some statistics about the Gandhi family’s illegitimate fortunes from sources that are either in public or quasi-public domain:
Some estimates of the enormous illegitimate and unaccounted for wealth of the Gandhi family
Independent reports have recentlycalculated India’s main ruling family’s (Gandhi’s) financial net worth to be anywhere between $9.41 billion (Rs 42,345 crore) to $18.66 billion (Rs 83,900 crore), most of it in the form of illegal monies. Harvard scholar Yevgenia Albats cited KGB correspondence about payments to Rajiv Gandhi and his family, which had been arranged by Viktor Chebrikov, which shows that KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov sought in writing an “authorization to make payments in US dollars to the family members of Rajiv Gandhi, namely Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Paola Maino, mother of Sonia Gandhi” from the CPSU in December 1985.
(Source: Corruption in India, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_in_India, http://hemantgoswami.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/dirtymoney/)
Let the general demands and vagueness stop and let there be specificity of names and actions
If Anna Hazare and Ramdev’s Lok Pal juggernaut is really earnest in its mission, its first or primary target should be the Gandhi family. Maybe it is, but the letter from Ramdev and the public statements are fighting shy of naming names. If the Lok Pal proponents are serious, they should already be getting to work chasing the Gandhi family, starting with information and documents available in the public or quasi-public domain.
While dealing with this issue, let’s cut out vague demands and be specific with the names and charges. We have a Prime Minister that presides over a cabinet with more than 50% of its members either corrupt or with doubtful integrity and public record. The cabinet has such glittering stars as Sharad Pawar, Veerapa Moily and Jaipal Reddy. The list of the rouges’ gallery of Indian politics is not unknown to the Lok Pal. Here is a quick and dirty list if you like:
- Gandhi family
- Sharad Pawar
- Suresh Kalmadi
- Arjun Singh
- Satish Sharma
- M Karunanidhi
- J Jayalalitha
- Mulayam Singh Yadav
- Amar Singh
- Laloo Prasad Yadav
- Ram Vilas Paswan
- Veerappa Moily
- Heirs of Narasimha Rao family
- Bal Thakeray
They all have either corruption cases or cases of amassing of wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income and lot of information exists in the public and government domain to pursue non-frivolous litigation and prosecution proceedings against them.
The Lok Pal has its work really cut out for it. What more can we say?
What should the response of the Secular Humanist community be?
While the secular humanists and rationalists cannot approve of the ideology of Ramdev or his ulterior agenda, we cannot simply brush aside the tide of public opinion and support that is getting mobilized in favor of the anti-corruption movement. Comments of social activists like Shabnam Hashmi against Ramdev’s antecedents, while right in their own way, don’t help the cause of battling corruption from the point of view of social mobilization. If we insist that this crusade can only be led by a squeaky clean white knight in shining armor, that is going to remain a fantasy.
Though the community of secular humanists and rationalists don’t have to join forces with the symbols of obscurantism and prejudiced medievalism represented by Baba Ramdev in their platforms and forums, we can exploit the momentum that these events provide in riveting the locus of public mood and consciousness on an issue of burning importance. Apart from other things, many citizens can disseminate names and information of corrupt public personalities by using information available on public domains. Blogs, twitter and internet boards and forums can be utilized as PIL (Public Interest Litigation) and petitioning devices to keep drawing and focusing attention on the misdeeds of known corrupt politicians and offenders. This is also a good time and occasion to sharpen and broaden the movement of consumer activism, especially when dealing with Govt. agencies. Dr Kamath’s articles on Nirmukta on this topic are very good guides for planning and carrying out citizen-based social activism.