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22 August 2012

A Facile Conclusion

This Indian Express page one anchor is a classic case exposing how little journalists know what is happening on the activism front

At centre of stirs against graft, a body with RSS links, ex-babus

In the story referred to above, correspondent Manoj CG jumps to a facile conclusion based on random quotes without delving deep into the facts, that too more than a year since the events alluded to in the story transpired.

While it is a fact that two members of India against Corruption 
 Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi  were among the empanelled speakers in Vivekananda International Foundation-hosted seminar on 1 and 2 April 2011, it was no way a bid to either shape the respective movements led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev or bring the two civil society leaders together, much as the second is desired and has been a constant endeavour for the last two years on the part of many RSS swayamsevaks. Following are the facts beyond what Manoj reports:

  • The movement that has Hazare as its mascot was launched officially on 30 January last year when a delegation of IaC marched from Ramlila Ground to Jantar Mantar, where 94-year old Shambhu Dutt Sharma, chief patron of Gandhi Seva and Satyagraha Brigade, had been fasting for years together demanding the implementation of the 1999 Law Commission recommendations that provided that the property of any person served a charge sheet in a court of law would be confiscated and he/she would be debarred from contesting elections till his/her name was cleared by the court where the trial was on. The third demand of Lokpal was cherry-picked by the team because this had been a pet project and obsession of one of its key members, Shanti Bhushan, since 1967 when his draft was rejected by the Indira Gandhi regime.
  • Preparations for the movement that is ostensibly led by Baba Ramdev  the business empire actually belongs to the now arrested Acharya Balakrishna  has been on for ages. For at least seven years now, the yoga guru has been propagating his beliefs in all matters under the sky, with or without adequate knowledge of the subjects, besides physical exercises through television programmes aired by the Aastha and Sanskarchannels in which his trusts hold major stakes. Ramdev was a much bigger name than Hazare till his 27 February rally at Ramlila Maidan where the latter, accompanied by Kejriwal and Bedi, were mere guest speakers. Instead of consolidating Bharat Swabhiman's effort to retrieve black money from tax havens abroad, invited members of IaC merely parroted their one-size-fits-all formula of 'Jan' Lokpal while speaking from the Ramlila Ground stage that afternoon.
  • Before a large section of the media turned Hazare into a god, his sole claim to fame was inadvertently troubling the Sharad Pawar faction of Maharashtra's undivided Congress unit and helping the faction headed by (the late) Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde. His proximity with Deshmukh manifested when the requests of all other leaders, who wanted to come on the Ramlila Ground stage to appeal to him to break his fast in August last year, were turned down.
  • The astronomical figures of black money Ramdev quotes may not be a figment of his imagination. They featured in several international journals of repute in 2009 after which the communist parties raised a din in Parliament over the issue and the BJP turned black money retrieval into an electoral plank. Strangely, the said newspaper never highlighted the 2006 Global Financial Integrity report among others, out of which only an alleged citation from Swiss Bankers Association was later denied by the sources.
  • Whereas Kejriwal presented an impressive exposition on the state of the country's corrupt system in the April seminar at VIF, all that Bedi did was be a part of the audience waiting for her turn to speak, after which she ascended the podium only to invite all attendees in the seminar to their 5 April spectacle at Jantar Mantar to demand an effective Lokpal, a single stroke of legislation that she seemed to believe would be a panacea of all ills that plague the nation. The three legal luminaries mentioned in the report (Justice MN Venkatachaliah, Justice JS Verma and Subhash C Kashyap) pooh-poohed the idea after the IaC representatives left.
  • Ramdev arrived on the scene at the fag end of the programme on 2 April when half the audience at VIF had left to watch the second half of India's match with Sri Lanka at the ICC World Cup final, thinking the yoga guru's flight to Delhi would be late. When he finally arrived, he was rushed backstage by S Gurumurthy who had the interest of the BJP in mind and was against the idea of Ramdev floating his own political party, which would make a dent in his favourite party's electoral base. At that juncture, the former chartered accountant was under the impression that KN Govindacharya was a BJP sympathiser and hence a safe bet. In an atmosphere of confusion and haste, Ramdev was goaded into making the statement that his political wing would be headed by Govindacharya. The fact is, despite this and a couple of more meetings, the former RSS pracharak has always held a grim view of the yogi's intellect. A fact that no media outlet reported (or came to know) is that the two were not on talking terms almost throughout May 2011 before the baba's 4 June fiasco that year.
  • Govindacharya floated the Save Democracy Front on 25 June 2011, bringing together 50 small and large political organisations. This would be the fourth front, so to speak, after the ever-elusive third front initiative by non-Congress, non-BJP parties. Much of the programmes of the SDF are being held in a hush-hush manner, the latest of which was a meeting with Ekta Parishad's PV Rajagopal on 17 August (three days ago) in Hardwar's Shantikunj. Andhra Pradesh-based Lok Satta Party is a prominent constituent of this front. Its head N Jayaprakash Narayan was on the VIF panel of the seminar the Indian Express report speaks of.
The seminar referred to in the IE report photographed by the blogger
As of now, the RSS's relationship with Govindacharya is marred by mutual suspicion. The Sangh is miffed as Govindacharya's independent political orientation is detrimental to the interest of the BJP in which it has invested so much through the decades. On the other hand, Govindacharya refuses to relent from speaking publicly against the party he was a part of until 12 years ago, as he finds it headed and managed by people no less corruptible than the leaders and managers of the Congress.

Media reports on activism of the past two years has made one thing loud and clear: truth is difficult to be fathomed by means of short interviews with protagonists of the play that journalists can muster. You have to move around with activists day in and day out to know what precisely they are up to.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.