By Sanjay Jha
( As the Baba Ramdev imbroglio shows, the Congress has for long let the tail wag the dog. It must start now to bark orders. And perhaps look for a Deputy Prime Minister ).
Baba Ramdev is the new nocturnal creature of the electronic age post-the midnight eviction from Ram Lila grounds , ably supported by one right-wing political party threatened by increasing obsolescence , and the latter’s ideological masters in incandescent saffron. The fact that the Congress-UPA made a terrible miscalculation by giving the Baba a red carpet welcome added enormously to the Baba’s mythical aura. The regrettable attack on innocent citizens, even if inevitable in the mayhem, was something that the UPA could well have done without.
The main issues ( which included grotesque calls for death penalty for the convicted corrupt ) were always a subterfuge for the larger game-plan of augmenting Brand Baba Ramdev and his rising ambitions, who was obviously not satiated with the TRP ratings of his Aastha channel. The overwhelming legitimacy given to another rank outsider Anna Hazare perhaps also emboldened him to join the bandwagon.
Naturally the principal subject of black money was ingeniously obfuscated by the constant blabbering Baba, who seemed to have emerged as the proxy President/ spokesman of the BJP. Suddenly he erupted with vicious lava by making hackneyed references to Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins ( a BJP-RSS favorite that boomeranged in 2004) and spreading the canard that the simple humble Sardar had plans of physically obliterating him. Ramdev’s utterances sounded like a comical script as if he was auditioning for a role in Pirates of the Caribbean.. The Dark Lord of the Emergency was resuscitated. A laundry-list of grumpy grievances rolled out. It was like one of Smriti Irani’s many soap operas in fast forward at sputnik speed with everyone uttering emotional monologues simultaneously. Not surprisingly, Sadhvi Ritambhara adorned the guest-list in pure party colors. The last I heard, the recent “assumed resurrection” has led to Uma Bharati rejoining the BJP. Ramdev finally ended up being the CEO of BJP’s BPO, an outsourced specialist.
LK Advani , forever loquacious, called the Ram Lila evictions the “ blackest day in India’s democracy”. Of course, like he momentarily blanked out on the Kandahar hijackings, he forgot December 6th 1992 and the illegal destruction of a certain mosque called Babri Masjid that literally ripped apart our social fabric, plunging post-Independent India into dangerous communal turmoil. Needless to add, but the irrepressible Narendra Modi, similarly affected by Alzheimer’ s , forgot the merciless brutality of the Gujarat riots. Elsewhere, Sushma Swaraj was caught doing a semi-salsa choreographed indigenously by the Sangh Parivar on a tune that would have impressed Lady Gaga. The entire drama , paradoxically enough, was held center-stage at Raj Ghat, a symbolic statement to make indeed, given BJP’s love for the Father of the Nation. This then was the gravitas on display by the party founded by the venerable Shyama Prasad Mookerji. Lord Ram bless us all.
What amused and astonished me was that no one asked the fundamental question ( particularly the UPA itself) : Who was Baba Ramdev to become the self-appointed bogeyman of overseas black money? Sure, everyone in a democracy has the right to protest on issues of public interest ( the standard prescription that practically everyone expostulated) , but does that mean that tomorrow any Tom, Dick and Haridwar can use that democratic freedom to make ridiculous demands ( an instant ordinance ) and exploit it for totally different reasons? Frankly, everyone is aware of the dubious nature of asset-base of Ramdev’s innumerable trusts ; so how can the pot call the kettle black, folks? At least until Ramdev’s own monetary credentials are transparently cleared, what moral right does he have to champion the fight against ill-gotten wealth?
While obviously giving the suspect Baba Ramdev the platform for yoga practise was a monumental lapse, the intemperate and unreasonable utterances and attitude of Team Anna have only accentuated the discomfiture of the UPA and severely damaged the sanctity of our democratic institutions. I suggest Team Anna itself should now be scrapped from the Lok Pal panel draft committee and substituted by members from other political parties as it always should have been. Of course, their inputs , if any novel ones are offered should be taken up for consideration. Only Team Anna can achieve the dubious distinction of throwing the baby out with the bathwater becoming the best palatable solution.
The BJP apprehending political atrophy has displayed intellectual myopia, moral ambiguity and electoral desperation by its flagrant advocacy of Ramdev’s charade. With the Babri Masjid case now in Supreme Court and unlikely to become an election issue in 2012 ( UP elections) or 2014, BJP is clearly looking bereft of any logical explanation for its existence itself . The recent ignominious rout in assembly elections is clearly hurting too. The foolhardiness as a result is showing.
The truth is that Congress –UPA suffers from one serious handicap that it needs to internally acknowledge. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is indeed an incorruptible man with noble intentions and great erudition , but he is quintessentially apolitical. Wily statecraft, Machiavellian ploys, impeccable oratory, political negotiations and high visibility are not in his DNA. In a free-wheeling parliamentary democracy particularly in the age of coalition politics and regular media surveillance , that is tantamount to an amputated limb. It is like playing golf with one hand, simply impossible. Thus, the perennial trouble- shooting solution in crisis times for the UPA is the magic formula: a Group of Ministers. That instant relief pill can work on a one-off tactical issue, but cannot become a strategic tool. It takes a toll on all participants, as they have differing views and personalities , and frankly, no one can be held directly accountable. That is the precise reason why the four senior Congress leaders blundered their way to the airport. A leader finally has to take that tough call. Leadership is not always about collective brainstorming, or a majority opinion, or an agreed consensus. It is often the decision of one man against the recommendations of several. Like Barack Obama did on Abbottabad; one that could have severely backfired with deadly consequences . The leader has to be prepared to be perpetually in the hot seat under 24 hour scrutiny. .
In cricket, players do play with a niggling injury. Congress needs to overcome the mental roadblock of a “ coalition hamstring pull”. When you govern, you do the right things irrespective of disturbing neighbors. By taking on the corrupt DMK, Congress has demonstrated that it can go the whole nine yards when it wants to . Despite intermittent hiccups and numerous derailments, this UPA regime has achieved significant milestones: RTI and the soon to be passed Lok Pal Bill are and will be truly historic for any democracy world-wide.
The UPA will perhaps benefit for the rest of the term if it alters its leadership command structure. What I would recommend is the creation of a new post of a Deputy Prime Minister, who takes charge of “ real brass-tacks political management” that is currently done by odd assortments of GoM’s. That will deservedly insulate Manmohan Singh from needless exposure to political chicanery and prevent the rising ambitions of all kinds of disruptive forces. The choice could be between Pranab Mukherjee or Digvijay Singh. Or Rahul Gandhi. Or any other.
The UPA needs to act. And fast ( pun intended).