For UPA, there is nothing to be proud of

Updated: Jun 18, 2011, 18:27 PM IST

Saswat Panigrahi

The UPA government is living in an illusion. It is reading a wrong script and shouting out the headline, “Govt wins as Baba’s fast fizzles out”. It’s been a couple of days since iconic yoga guru Baba Ramdev ended his anti-graft fast at his Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar after being driven out of Ramlila Maidan. The UPA government has declared Ramdev a persona non grata. But the aftermath of the Ramdev episode is refusing to die down. It continues to raise political temperatures. Has Baba Ramdev’s satygraha put the government in a tight spot? Here is the answer.

Ramdev’s satygraha against the twin issues of corruption and black money has laid bare corrupt governance and fueled a justified anger.

The issues the yoga guru raised by his movement are timely and pertinent. He demands India’s money illicitly stashed in tax havens abroad be declared as a national asset. He wants the government to promulgate an ordinance followed by a bill to bring black money back. Julian Paul Assange, editor of the whistle blower website Wikileaks, says India is the main source of black money. While experts are still working out the final figure, a conservative estimate pegs India’s black money stashed overseas at Rs 400 lakh crore. The Supreme Court says it is a pure and simple theft of the national money.

Black money has a cascading impact on India’s economy. It is directly responsible for the persistent rise in prices of essential commodities. But the UPA government has shown no effective, meaningful or visible action to bring back black money stashed in tax havens.

Apart from black money, Baba Ramdev has raised a few other pertinent issues. He asks the government to ban the currency notes of Rs 1,000 and 500 denominations, as he feels that the notes are easy medium for the black money hoarders inside the country to store and circulate. Ramdev, a strong votary of an effective Lokpal Bill, seeks setting up fast-track courts to ensure speedy trial in graft cases. In addition, he demands the passage of a new Public Services Guarantee Act to curb corruption.

It was obvious. The government did not want a repetition of situation created by the Anna Hazare stir in April. Remember, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went the extra mile to persuade Ramdev by writing a letter, dated May 31, appealing him not to go on fast.

June 1: In further overdrive, a delegation of four senior Union Ministers -- Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal , Pawan Kumar Bansal and Subodh Kant Sahay along with the Cabinet Secretary -- met Baba Ramdev at the VIP lounge of Delhi airport upon his arrival in the city. Ramdev and the government emissaries discussed his series of demands for two and half hours.

June 3: Sibal and Sahay again met Ramdev at Delhi’s Claridges Hotel and discussed his demands for four hours. But the government despite all its persuasive might failed to cut the ice with the yoga guru. Baba Ramdev went ahead with his proposed fast on the scheduled date of June 4.

Compared to an estimated 5,000 people at the peak of Anna Hazare’s fast at Jantar Mantar, Baba Ramdev began his fast at Ramlila Maidan in the presence of 50,000 people. There were reports that around two lakh people were likely to converge at the fast venue on the next day. Contrary to Anna’s audience who were largely metropolitan literati, Ramdev managed to mobilise people from all across the country including a large chunk from the rural areas. Looking at the huge response to Baba Ramdev’s fast, the government could not take the risk of any further damage to its image.

The government’s “crisis managers” scripted an “innovative” way to tackle the situation. Armed with the government order, a heavy contingent of Delhi Police and the Rapid Action Force -- led by a “faithful” Police Commissioner -- cracked down on the peaceful protesters at Ramlila Maidan in the wee hours of that fateful night. In a show of sheer brutality, waking up protesters from their sleep, the police lathicharged and fired scores of teargas shells at them. The protesters which included senior citizens, women and children were mercilessly beaten up.

“If the government can reach out, it can also rein in.” Remember, senior Union Minister Kapil Sibal said hinting at the midnight swoop before it took place? Perhaps this is the way the Congress party and the UPA government thinks democracy works! This is reminiscent of the Emergency days when civil liberties were suspended. The Congress party just replayed the Emergency once again.

History will not forgive the government for the political sin it has committed. By muzzling the voices against corruption, the Congress-led UPA has brought home its “political will” to fight corruption and to bring back black money stashed in tax havens.

A stoic government then went on to justify the violent midnight swoop on the peaceful protesters. "It is unfortunate that operation had to be conducted, but quite honestly there was no alternative," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

The naked display of fascist power and the rise of arrogance show that the Congress-led UPA government has lost the plot. It is facing a credibility crisis. This is the right time for the government to be shown the exit door. There are lessons to be learnt for the citizens as well. Next time think thrice before you vote back the government.

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