After the warm welcome, the stern send-off to Baba Ramdev shows that the writ of the State still runs and that is a good sign, says Navneet Anand.
The curiously red carpet welcome by the Indian government to yoga guru Baba Ramdev on June 2 ahead of his agitation at New Delhi's Ramlila grounds was both perplexing and shocking.
It exhibited in no uncertain terms government's anxiety to ward off any upsurge of mass sentiments, which could lead to uncoordinated and irritating noise on corruption from a vocal middle class, as was evident during the Anna Hazare's rendezvous at New Delhi's historic Jantar Mantar not too long ago.
It was perhaps also an attempt to convey to Baba Ramdev that he should not flirt with what is not his domain -- politics -- and confine himself within the domain he has excelled in so far -- yoga. By all means the Indian government excelled in their display of humility to cajole and convince the yoga leader not to put in a different robe of a modern messiah. It also knew the overt political overtures of the Baba were pregnant with unpleasant possibilities, and it was in the interest of the government to foist it even before it erected its monstrous face.
End of Ram-Lila at Ramlila Grounds
Two days later, in a curious turnaround of stance the same government took little time in responding with a stern, and effective, action plan when the Baba reportedly started to waver on his commitments -- the government says it had acceded to most of the demand of the Baba and there was no reason why he in turn should not have honoured his commitments.
Notwithstanding the tug-of-war on who promised what and who acceded how much ground, the eviction of Baba and his thousands of supporters on solid law and order grounds is welcome move for a variety of reasons.
Even as TV channels cry foul over the "indiscriminate use of force" to evict Baba and his supporters, the act by the Union government will go a long way in reinforcing the credibility of the state as the custodian of law and order and guardian of peace. During the Anna Hazare's fast in April the government had appeared meek, desperate, and clueless on how to handle the sudden surge of emotions, and an inexplicable assertiveness by the civil society. The glittering candle lights emanating from feeble hands of young 'activists' wearing a big blankness on their faces seemed to put huge question marks over the locus standi of a democratically elected government.
Thriving protest economy
The Jantar Mantar incident, even though it may not have been designed that way, suddenly became a symbol representing the rot in Indian political system. It led many part-time, globe-trotting activists into indulging in the fanciful idea that the civil society would supplant the large democratic space occupied by the politics and political class.
It was a scary flirtation of the civil society fuelled by the mindless display of support by the young, restless and non-conformists.
The government's early morning clampdown on the Ramlila ground is also a lesson to the many fringe agents in society, who in the name of activism, have begun taking government agencies on a ransom. Encouraged by the eroding faith of people in the political agents, social activists have begun to thrive and are out there opposing everything under the sun -- from sands to sea and steel, water, river, agriculture, jungles. Often taking the gullible and vulnerable by their side, these activists today run a thriving protest economy, flush with funds from lobbies within the country and other parts of the world.
Message to modern activism
The stern action against Baba also sends a strong message to such agents do not coat your vested interest with an ideology; do not take the pretence of 'satyagraha' to meet overt political and economic gains; do not blackmail and challenge constitutional and democratic institutions at your whims and fancy.
At a time when decay in public morality is at its lowest ebb and many political institutions are faced with unprecedented crisis, allowing Baba Ramdev to run a smear campaign and throw challenges to government under live television from the heart of Indian capital would have meant deepening the mock. It would have made the government look toothless, dumb and spineless.
Days ahead will see countless, and often reckless debates on use of 'force' on a 'sanyasis' and will give fuel to Baba to capitalise on this capital humiliation, but in the annals of Indian history, I would tick this date as a decisive one, one which was marked to reassert the values and virtues of democracy, and a democratically elected government.
Navneet Anand is a freelance journalist and blogger and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org