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Rage of a yoga teacher

I know that what Baba Ramdev, a teacher of yoga with many, many views, essentially wants isn't something anyone is opposed to: the end of corruption, writes Chanakya.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:41 IST
Chanakya

There’s something deeply unsettling about one man with a captive fan base blackmailing the government with what I’d say are unreasonable demands. I know that what Baba Ramdev, a teacher of yoga with many, many views, essentially wants isn’t something anyone is opposed to: the end of corruption. But the method he is using is actually quite indistinguishable from the para-political strategies of those crying out ‘Mandir yahin banega’ some 20 years ago.

But before I go into his method of what he laughably calls a ‘satyagraha’, what is so unreasonable about the yoga guru’s demands that have bizzarely seen four Cabinet ministers rush to the airport seeking a rapprochement with him so that he wouldn’t embark on a ‘fast-unto-death’? Considering that the Government of India is taking him so seriously, let me also examine his demands one by one.

Ramdev supports a ‘strong’ Lokpal Bill.

By itself, there’s nothing awry about this. Anna Hazare and his fellowmen sitting down with government representatives to hammer out a draft Lokpal Bill before it’s tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament want the inclusion of the prime minister and the chief justice in the provisions of the law. They also want the bureaucracy, rather than just the political class, under the lokpal’s purview.

This issue is the bone of contention within the two camps in the draft committee. And how does Ramdev, not a committee member or an expert of law or a politician, contribute to “making the Lokpal Bill tougher”? By demanding that the corrupt be sentenced to death. My righteous kabadiwala shares this charmingly unworkable view.

Ramdev wants all black money stowed away in tax havens abroad to be returned immediately to the country.

You and I also might want that; but how on earth is one going to actually ferret out all that money, and “immediately” too?

Ramdev wants all wealth held illegally abroad by Indians to be declared as national property and those holding them be charged with sedition.

The fact that sovereignty issues of foreign countries might come into play doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind. I can just see Dawood Ibrahim’s house in Clifton, Karachi, becoming Indian national property overnight. In any case, I would think that India entering into tax information exchange agreements with 14 of the 22 countries identified as tax havens for Indians would be a more fruitful move than the general satsang discourse by the yoga teacher.

Ramdev wants R500 and R1,000 currency notes to be abolished

If he thinks that we’re still in the bad old Harshad Mehta days when black money had to be carried only in slim attaches, times have changed. The estimated R300 billion of undeclared income will simply slosh about in lower denominations. I don’t know what Ramdev’s views are on carrying plastic as opposed to cash, but the more serious problem confronting a ban on R500 and R1,000 notes would be the government having to spend extra crores of exchequer’s money to print many more lower denomination notes.

Ramdev wants the government to ensure that all Indians annually declare their incomes.

That is indeed a noble idea. But if he can come up with how to get this done, then I’m sure finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, for one, would become his biggest disciple.

(And now the man gets seriously loopy.)

Ramdev wants the British-inherited system of governance, administration, taxation, education, law and order to switch over to a ‘swadeshi’ system.

He wants all courses to be taught in ‘local languages’.

He wants to revoke the Land Acquisition Act so that no farmer can be moved for the purpose of industrialisation.

Ramdev wants all labourers, no matter what category, to get the same wages.

I won’t insult your intelligence and ask you what the last ‘few’ of the yoga teacher’s demands have to do with making black money or corruption disappear. But there you have it.

And finally, Ramdev’s method. To put it without wasting much breath: blackmail. And isn’t it a bit rich for a man launching a crusade against — what was it again? — corruption spending literally crores (even if the money is perfectly legit and accrued from his yoga teaching fees and donations) to turn himself into the brand and icon of India’s battle against corruption? Even Anna Hazare looked visibly perturbed at the arrangements being made prior to Ramdev’s fast mela of kumbh proportions at the Ramlila Grounds, not to mention the attention the yoga teacher was getting from the government much before he stopped eating.

For a man who had said in a press conference after the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality in 2009 that homosexuals are “sick people who should be sent to hospitals for treatment”, I guess we should be thankful he’s picked a virtuous cause — for now. But I would think twice before treating him as a rousing voice against corruption and general evil. If the yoga teacher has managed to do anything with all his dramatics, it is to turn all TV news into the Aastha channel. I’ll give him that.