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Government and civil society must abjure Ramdev's company. Rajmohan Gandhi writes.

india Updated: Jun 10, 2011 21:59 IST
Rajmohan Gandhi

After what he has said over the last days, it is plain that Indians will not accept Baba Ramdev as a guide. A person who repeatedly goes back on his word, claiming that previous commitments by him were purely "tactical", rules himself out of a leadership role, whether in politics or any other field. When such a person goes on to invite thousands of followers to be ready to use arms against the government, he asks for the law of the land to be applied against him.

This probably will happen, perhaps before these lines appear in print, but those who played up to Baba Ramdev in order to use him should recognise their blunders and revise their positions. If, as seems more than likely, the government and the Congress hoped that a pampered Ramdev would marginalise others in civil society who were demanding stronger measures against corruption, they should not only catch their ears and apologise to the nation; they should make a solemn promise to themselves that next time round they would look for the truth in civil society's demands, not for ways to foil those demands.

Equally, the BJP and the other parties and organisations, including the RSS, that tried to jump on the Baba's wagon should realise that the destination of that wagon is very different from what they had in mind, and realise also that the engine of that wagon has room only for one person. These parties and groups should return to their earlier caution about the Baba.

Clearly, the Baba's peculiar conduct should not be used as a whip against civil society in general, or against movements such as the one that produced a historic and overdue governmental commitment on the Lokpal Bill.

Baba Ramdev's follies do not whitewash the government's lethargy in the fight against corruption. The government should not forget that behind the broad condemnation of the pre-dawn swoop on Ramlila Maidan lay an impression that the government's words on the lokpal or black money lacked sincerity — that the government's energy was directed not at corruption but at those who claimed to fight it.

India cannot be equated with dictatorial countries in West Asia and North Africa that have witnessed courageous popular movements for democracy and against the transfer of ill-gotten funds to secret foreign destinations. Yet merely because India provides fair space for democratic protest does not mean that the way our democracy is being practised is satisfactory. All know that it isn't.

We have been reminded that our laws must in the end be enacted by elected legislatures. Nobody can dispute this, but only those with heads in the sand will argue that the proceedings of our elected legislatures have given great hope to the people of India. The state must be run by institutions, but the people have the right and the duty to remedy their defects, if necessary through non-violent struggle. Any attempt to stifle democratic non-violent protest in India will not only be opposed nationally; it will injure us worldwide.

Three steps might clear the air and help India return to sanity. One, the prime minister assuring the nation that he adheres to his commitments on the Lokpal Bill and on black money. Two, LK Advani or another BJP leader announcing that party's dissociation with Baba Ramdev. And three, Anna Hazare and his team announcing a clear separation from Baba Ramdev.

Rajmohan Gandhi is a biographer of MK Gandhi and professor at University of Illinois, US.The views expressed by the author are personal.