New Delhi: Unlike the trickle when Team Anna began its hungerstrike two weeks ago, 15,000 people have gathered at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi, on the first day of Baba Ramdev's camp, establishing the yoga guru's star power. The crowd is largely rural and many people have arrived with bags of clothes and other daily necessities as they prepare to set up camp here for a few days. Indian flags are being waved, there are big Ramdev posters all over the ground.
He will fast for three days.
In June last year, the yoga teacher was bundled out of the same ground in a midnight police swoop that turned violent; the Supreme Court indicted both the police and Baba Ramdev for acting irresponsibly and putting the large crowd at risk. This time around, the police says, it is prepared to handle 30,000 people. Four companies stationed and alert to any trouble.
Though his mission is to pressure the government to recover crores of black money or untaxed income hidden by Indians in foreign bank accounts, Baba Ramdev retailed the Lokpal Bill, the anti-graft legislation that has been the raison d'etre of 75-year-old Anna Hazare's movement for the last 18 months. "We want a strong Lokpal Bill," he said, addressing an attentive crowd. The bill has cleared the Lok Sabha, but has yet to be voted on in the Rajya Sabha. Baba Ramdev suggested that the Bill be passed immediately; minor changes to address the concerns of civil society activists or political parties could be made through amendments later. However, the government should not interpret that as a sign to push through "a sarkari (government) Lokpal Bill," he warned. "A sarkari bill will be like a sarkari CBI," he said, referencing the common criticism that the country's top investigating agency is used to serve the party in power by targeting its opponents and protecting its friends.
Differentiating himself from Anna's aides, who have attacked ministers and decided to launch their own political party, Baba Ramdev said that he has no political agenda and will not target any political party. He is, however, closely backed by the BJP - recently, party president Nitin Gadkari greeted him publicly by touching his feet, a deferential gesture of respect that drew much criticism.
And unlike Team Anna, Baba Ramdev said his anti-corruption campaign would name no one. "We should respect the President and PM of the country," he said today. Team Anna has attacked 14 ministers in the UPA government, including the PM and now President Pranab Mukherjee.
Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare are championing anti-corruption measures at a time when scandals involving voluptuous graft have tumbled out into the open. Many are being investigated in courts, conveying the impression of an unaccountable political class and governance bereft of any sort of probity. But the reason that Anna and Baba Ramdev were able to strike a chord with middle class India is on account of a venal system that is navigated in everyday life. From driving licenses to building permits for houses, bribes are demanded blatantly by officers in charge.
Religious songs are being sung on stage and the Ramlila Ground wears a festive air. The yoga guru has cannily planned his protest to coincide with an extended weekend that includes the Janamashtmi festival tomorrow; and then there is Independence Day on Wednesday next, August 15.
(With Agency Inputs)