Baba Ramdev fast: Just cause or blackmail?

 
Baba Ramdev Baba Ramdev is a popular yoga guru

In this open season of hunger strikes, India is bracing for another one, beginning this weekend.

After activist Anna Hazare brought the government to its knees with his 96-hour fast in April demanding tough anti-corruption laws, the government is now debating a contentious law for a corruption ombudsman with Mr Hazare's "civil society" representatives. Now popular yoga guru Baba Ramdev has decided to begin a "fast unto death" demanding a crackdown on illicit money.

The north Indian saffron-clad yoga teacher presides over a thriving yoga and health empire, including an island in Scotland. He abhors multinational corporations, believes the World Health Organisation (WHO) is an American big pharma "conspiracy", claims his exercises can cure HIV, is openly homophobic and advocates capital punishment for the corrupt. He also believes yoga can "rescue" India. His critics believe he is uncomfortably close to Hindu nationalist organisations.

So why is he pitching tent in Delhi with 60 doctors, an intensive care unit, 1,300 toilets, a huge media centre, seven giant TV screens broadcasting the anti-graft fast and an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance? Is he a publicity seeker or is he using his popularity to highlight a just cause?

"There are two ways of changing a system," Baba Ramdev said in a recent interview. "One to enter politics directly, and [secondly] to create such an enormous groundswell of pressure from the public that the political class is forced to act responsibly."

His supporters say there is a legitimate space for people like him, who have influence over thousands of followers, and who can rally them against corruption, India's biggest existential threat. They say people like him and Anna Hazare actually do democracy proud by bringing citizens' pressure to bear on government.

Anti-corruption protest in Delhi, India There have been widespread protests against corruption in India

But many question whether a yoga merchant should become a self-appointed leader of the anti-corruption drive. They believe such fasts in a constitutional democracy can easily become a coercive tool to blackmail government. One of India's greatest thinkers, BR Ambedkar, eloquently wrote that such methods introduced a "grammar of anarchy" to a democracy. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a respected commentator and head of a leading Indian think-tank, believes that Baba Ramdev's fast is an "absurdity, an absolute travesty of democracy and phenomenally dangerous trend".

An effete government, many say, has allowed things to come to such a pass. A bewildered sociologist friend of mine believes that by abdicating its responsibility in making a serious and sincere effort to crack down on corruption using available laws and institutions, it has allowed a bunch of "oddballs and fetishists, masquerading as the new Gandhis" to take leadership of a media-driven, largely middle-class anti-graft movement.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta echoes a similar sentiment. "The real issue in this is that we don't have a government, part of the reason you have this problem is that there is no leadership," he told a newspaper.

"Can you imagine a government of a large democracy becoming hostage to someone saying 'I am going on a fast'? If we had a strong government and the prime minister took responsibility for government actions, this situation would not have come about."

When a large number of people lose trust in the government to deliver on promises, they turn to anyone who captures their imagination. This is why Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have becoming the darlings of India's restless, politician-baiting middle-class, who are fed up with corruption.

 
Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 209.

    Baba Ramdev's intentions may be noble. Bt his method merits scrutiny. Satyagraha was employed by The Mahatma against the British. Today it is a much abused tool (ever hear about relay satyagraha? You have a good breakfast and go on a 'hunger strike" till lunch. Someone takes over your position from lunch till tea! Let us be serious, Baba's demands are very vague. Its time for him to reflect.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 208.

    The number of scams during congress rule has touched so high that common man has lost confidence in the govt working and attitude , resulting to stand by anyone who supports anti corruption bill to be brought. People are angry to know that the representative of the poor are holding crores of assets and still not ready to declare and are resorting to violent ways to surpress the voice of innocents.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 207.

    Gandhi and only Gandhi, Did or did not India produced other leaders. British loved Gandhi, he did not possess any threat to them,gave them enough time to leave on their own terms. He did not like Ballavbhai Patel another Linconns Inn barrister but lived a very modest life,he did not like Netaji whose aim was for immediate freedom.More princely Nehru got the ultimate prize.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 206.

    The baba is a public nuisance!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 205.

    Usual tripe from Biswas. Everything he (and indeed the BBC) ever writes seems to drip with contempt for the traditional Indian ethos and culture they clearly don't have the intellect to grasp. Now apparently combatting corruption is "blackmail"! If he had his way, India could drown in dysfunction and poverty as long as he could continue to serve his beloved masters like a good little sepoy.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 204.

    time for action! as ganhi ji started non-coeperation movement to change british rule--time for a common man to stand up for his rights and start non-co-operation movement in india to bring corrupt congress down to his knees.what better day can be than 15th of august.time for another freedom struggle from the clutches of a corrupt govt.let's unite and show them the power of a common indian man.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 203.

    if you cannot peacefully protest against corruption in world's largest democracy then where else you can.we britishers talk about human rights everywhere in the world why not criticise a corrupt government in india--so please let's join hands and peacefully protest against corrupt oppressive congress govt. in india .time for a common man to stand against corruption now!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 202.

    I have yet to see a balanced, totally unbiased article regarding Indian politics from the BBC correspondent.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 201.

    thank you bbc to provide me space to express my view on things those matters to humen.
    regarding the fast of baba ramdev against black money stashed outside india,the most importent thing to be learned by politicians is that indian people are tired of corruption.we should not disscuss who is fasting but disscuss why is fasting?indian politicians should think a lot and common man of india.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 200.

    One can find cures against very resilient diseases, but not against corruption in India, the situation has spiraled out of control long ago.

    Why Ramdev wanted to have a go at the political mob that is the Congress, only he knows, the guy's at least trying to make things better but there's no way he'll win that battle.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 199.

    So he has loads of money..at least he is making it by creating a healthier world....
    So he may be politically motivated...he is not killing someone for his political means... I say if every politician begins to do social welfare for his political means, what else can one ask for......

  • rate this
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    Comment number 198.

    The issue of corruption came up during Nehru Era, when a commission of MPs was appointed..Late Barrister Nath Pai, then MP, was one of them. One of them was ‘the corruption begins at the top’. The Commission Report is now forgotten.I feel corruption may have began in the Revenue Department.Nobody is above board, from Presidents and PMs to Swamis and Gurus, until proved “not guilty”.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 197.

    And how he developed a fan base is extremely blatant , this is India where so many people’s lives gloomy and even a slight ray of hope gather them anywhere. and when promises are these big than they will gather anywhere.and false promises like these is playing with the feelings of innocent Indian people

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 196.

    In my perception it is a political drama from Ramdev.All his demands are quixotic.people commenting here i assume are literate and able to think rationally(though i seriously doubt it), i urge you all BJP and congress acolytes to think once rationally about this subject,
    and i am sure u fill find these demands highly impractical, this is all a political facades

  • rate this
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    Comment number 195.

    Disagree with No 179. Demonetization of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes will bring the hoarders of black-money on their knees. Ramdev's efforts are commendable. If he has a political agenda-all the more better.Please get over with Ostrich like behavior and join the pious social movement steered by Anna Hazare and Ramdev.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 194.

    Ramdev has claimed to be Yogo guru. He better stay at that and indulge in various nefarios activities. He got into unchartered territories to get political protection for his own crimes. He is into blacmailing the govt.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 193.

    Do you know, Baba Ram Dev conducts free yoga classes at various places, and gives private audience to people the next day. Charges are only 1 lakh rupees. He calls it Life Membership fee. Dr. Jammi

  • rate this
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    Comment number 192.

    Indian Constitution is inadequate. Prime Minister is not decisive in power of 1000 husbands. We have to rewrite Indian constitution so that Prime Minister and Chief Minister should be elected direct by the people ( US constitution with two terms).The people should breath fresh air each time. Civil Servants enjoy ministerial powers in shadow for life, and carry DNA of corruption, to be abolished.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 191.

    This article provides a much more sane perspective on the recent events than most of the Indian print and visual media. The government is blundering it's way in dealing with the recent spate of scams. But to give it it's due, it has taken action against most of the scamsters, including those of the Congress. What remains to be seen it where the different investigations lead up to.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 190.

    Me-too fasts are clearly for publicity and blackmail.

 

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