New Delhi: What does it take to get the government to fight corruption?
One answer could be: a medical facility with an air-conditioned Intensive Care Unit, a team of 60 doctors, a media centre, 1,300 toilets, seven large screens to pipe live action, television sets, and a storage facility of 100,000 litres of water.
This is some of the infrastructure behind Baba Ramdev’s fast that starts on 4 June at New Delhi’s Ramlila grounds.
Ramdev wants the government to set up a special task force for bringing black money back to the country by declaring it a national wealth, ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption, remove high denomination currency from anything above hundred rupee-notes, and enact a strong Lokpal Bill.
The government, burned by a similar protest led by Anna Hazare seeking the participation of activists in the drafting of the Lokpal Bill—Ramdev was part of the rainbow coalition that came together for the agitation—is trying to convince him to give up the idea of a fast, but its efforts have thus far proven futile. On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he hoped Ramdev would not take recourse to agitation. “We will make another effort to persuade him not to undertake it (the fast),” he added.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president and chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a Delhi-based think tank, termed Ramdev’s fast as an “absurdity”, “absolute travesty of democracy” and a “phenomenally dangerous trend”. “Everybody pointed out during the Hazare movement that if you compromise now, there will be a series of chain reactions,” he added.
Baba Ramdev is going to sit on a fast from 4 June against corruption. Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint
Unlike Hazare’s protest which, despite being hugely popular, was more a spontaneous expression of anger at the system by the middle class which took the campaign to heart, Ramdev’s protest is well planned. The city’s Ramlila grounds is where Ramdev will fast. He will make the occasional trip to the environs of Jantar Mantar, an 18th century observatory that is a popular place for protests and protesters (the Hazare protest too happened there), where demonstrations will be held. Meanwhile, others accompanying him on the fast and many others participating in a yoga camp Ramdev is organizing, will be at the Ramlila grounds and Jantar Mantar. Supporters of the popular yoga guru who has, in recent months, donned the avatar of a social activist fighting corruption, expect around 20,000 people to attend the free camp.
“We have been asked to make sure that every facility should be provided to all those who join us,” said Virendra Vikram, president of the Delhi state unit for Bharat Swabhiman, which is a part of Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth based at Haridwar.
Verma, who is supervising the preparations, said a 250,000 sq. ft area of the Ramlila grounds has been covered by tents. The venue, where work was still going on late Tuesday, has a central stage, a main seating area, a gallery from where followers can get an up-close-and-personal look at Ramdev, and two areas earmarked for sages (one for VIPs and another for non-VIPs).
Keeping the June heat in mind, the organizers are making sure water is available in abundance. Rajkumar, a volunteer who is in charge of this, said a special reverse osmosis plant has been set up to filter 1,200 litres of water every hour. “We have 20 tanks of 5,000 litre capacity each, so at any given time we will have 1 lakh litres of water,” he said.
The tents are where the main action will take place. These are 30 feet tall, with striped roofs and green carpets. Ved Pal, the member of Bharat Swabhiman in charge of the tents, said 125 workers had been at work on the tents for the past two weeks.
“The tents will be provided with seven large screens measuring 10ft by 17ft to make sure that even the person sitting in the last row can see what is happening on the stage,” he added. The grounds are festooned with posters of Ramdev that sport anti-corruption slogans.
“Inculcation of moral values will be done at Ramlila Maidan through yoga... and civil resistance will be demonstrated at Jantar Mantar,” said S.K. Tijarawala, spokesperson for the yoga guru. Ramdev couldn’t be reached because he was travelling from Madhya Pradesh to Delhi on the last leg of his 100,000km Bharat Swabhiman Yatra. Tijarawala said the march was a success: “Forty-two lakh registrations have taken place through missed-call registration and four crore people have extended support to Swamiji (Ramdev) during his yatra.” Tijarawala said, “we don’t want any committees,” referring to one of the resolutions suggested by the government.
The head of an activist group that supported Hazare’s protest and is also supporting Ramdev’s said both “movements” are about the “same issues”. The government needs to work on creating a platform for citizens to participate, said Nikhil Dey, co-convenor of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). Unlike Hazare’s protest, though, Ramdev’s will not exclude polity. “Polity, society and economy cannot be separated from each other; if you want a change, all have to be kept together,” added Tijarawala.
Nitin Gadkari, president of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wrote to Prime Minister Singh on Tuesday to “personally intervene and accept Baba Ramdev’s just and reasonable demands.”
By Tuesday evening, Twitter hashtags by #babaramdev had begun to show up and the official Facebook page—Bharat Swabhiman Trust (Official)— already had more than 7,000 “likes”.
CPR’s Mehta laid the blame squarely at the door of the government. “The real issue in this is that we don’t have a government, part of the reason you have this problem is that there is no leadership. Can you imagine a government of a large democracy every time becoming hostage to someone saying that ‘I am going on a fast’. If we had a strong government (and) the Prime Minister took responsibility for government actions, this situation would not have come about.”